Cory Varney: The GOAT is here - The definitive Norwich City story
PUBLISHED: 12:00 08 April 2020 | UPDATED: 13:43 08 April 2020
It was the calculated gamble that led all the way to the Premier League. Teemu Pukki emerges centre stage. City fan and writer Cory Varney charts a rapid rise.
Russell Martin is leaving Norwich City.
The news comes just before the derby. After being part of the Millwall mauling, last August, Martin has found first-team opportunities hard to come by.
The likes of Christoph Zimmermann, Timm Klose and new captain, Grant Hanley have all been ahead of him in the pecking order. Now Ben Godfrey is starting to inch his way into the first-team picture.
For Martin, who has made 309 appearances for Norwich, the mutual termination of his contract means he is still able to go and find a new club as the transfer window closes.
“I’ve been honoured and privileged to play for this football club,” Martin says. “I’ve loved it. The last year hasn’t been ideal and it hasn’t ended as how I would have wanted it to. But I’ll always care for this football club and the people involved with it. For me and my family, it’s been a huge part of my life.
“It will always be my football club now.”
Hanley is out. Six weeks. It could be eight.
The injury comes as Norwich get ready to take on 2nd placed Middlesbrough at Carrow Road. They’ve only conceded two goals so far this season.
Zimmermann comes in for Hanley. Farke also opts to swap Jordan Rhodes with Marco Stiepermann, push Teemu Pukki higher and sit the German behind him.
It works wonders.
Norwich beat Middlesbrough 1-0. Pukki scores.
Farke has a message for Norwich fans.
“I have to say a big compliment for the supporters because the relationship between the team and fans was outstanding. They realised we were there with a really, really good performance and deserved to win this game but we had a few periods, like in the last 10 minutes, when we needed them to support us.”
And they did.
“We had unity and when we create this atmosphere, between supporters and the players, we are able to do extraordinary things.”
The Championship rolls on.
On the following Wednesday, Norwich win again. Pukki scores again. Mario Vrancic grabs the winner against Reading and admits that perhaps the summer exit of James Maddison, while an unbelievable player, wasn’t such a bad thing.
They looked to him too much.
“Now, it’s kind of, everyone feels they need to make a contribution to the game, make runs in behind and is creating something. And that is exactly what we need.”
The younger faces – Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis, Ben Godfrey and now, Todd Cantwell, who made his league debut that night – are also bringing “something special” to it.
At the weekend, Norwich win again.
Pukki scores. Again.
“The fans are allowed to do what they want. They love this club, they have had so many good experiences in the past following this great club so they deserve to fly a bit and enjoy this at the moment. That is why we play football,” Farke says, keen to be cautious after a third win in a row.
“Me,” he adds. “I totally have both feet on the ground.”
Norwich beat Wycombe 4-3 in the League Cup.
Norwich topple Wigan 1-0 in the Championship.
That’s now five wins in a row.
It so nearly becomes six at Pride Park, though Frank Lampard’s Derby County equalise late.
The derby was now a month ago.
After that, Ipswich were 23rd. Norwich were 17th. There were two points between them. Now, Ipswich remain 23rd. Norwich sit 5th. There are 12 points between them.
“I was wrong about Norwich City,” admits Iwan Roberts, writing for the Pink’Un. “I said after a drab East Anglian derby back on September 2 that both Norwich and Ipswich were two very average teams that would probably finish mid table or worse. Well it looks that I was very right with one of those predictions, but very wrong with the other one!”
Fans get this
In early October, the eight game unbeaten run ends. Norwich lose 1-0 to Stoke.
But full-time serves up a moment. The Carrow Road stand up and applaud, the stadium as united in defeat – if not more – as it has been in victory in recent weeks.
“The players left their hearts on the pitch and were there with an outstanding performance,” says Farke. “For that I think they felt how disappointed the players were, especially my young lads. This is important for Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis and Emi Buendia that they have this support in the end and they get this applause. All I can say is a big thank you to our supporters, really well done and big compliments.”
Norwich drop back to 8th.
The second international break of the season brings fresh off field change.
Managing director Steve Stone leaves for new challenges. It sparks another restructure.
Stuart Webber remains where he is. sporting director, overseeing transfers and development of Colney and the academy. He is now joined on a new executive committee by chief operating officer, Ben Kensell and business and project director, Zoe Ward.
Kensell and Ward absorb Stone’s responsibilities. The trio will report directly to the board.
“It has always been part of our vision for the club to create a dynamic team both on and off the pitch,” says joint majority shareholders, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones. “With the talented and dedicated managers and staff we have, we feel strongly that shared leadership is now the best way forward to achieve this.”
Back on the pitch, Norwich return to league action at Nottingham Forest.
They win 2-1.
Timm Klose almost left the club in the summer. However, he’s found himself playing a key role and is the hero at the City Ground, scoring a brace. “I was pretty close to a move but I spoke to the gaffer and he convinced me that I have to stay, I have to help the young lads and that this season could be something big and we could achieve something.”
They are back in the play-offs now, just four points off the automatic promotion spots.
Others are taking notice.
“Perhaps before it was Norwich have lost many, many quality players and they have all these young lads who we don’t know the names from the academy so maybe they try a lot but it is a coincidence they have had some good results,” suggests Farke. “But maybe now they will be pretty awake when they face us and we can’t avoid that.”
It’s not something they want to avoid, he adds.
“That is exactly what we want.”
Aston Villa are next, back at Carrow Road. Norwich beat them too. Jordan Rhodes scores after a glorious 18-pass move.
Norwich rise to 4th.
Back off the pitch, the latest accounts are released.
Despite turning a £2.7m post-tax loss in 2016/17 to a £14.6m profit, after tax, in 217/18, a cash-negative position awaits at the end of the season with no more parachute payments this season.
The pressure was already felt this summer, says Stuart Webber, who reveals the financial situation would already be “dire” without those player sales.
“If we had not done those deals, we would not be stood here now, or the club would look significantly different in terms of what we would have gone through.”
Midweek sees ex-Norwich boss, Paul Lambert return to management.
He joins rock bottom Ipswich Town and becomes the first man to take charge of both East Anglian sides.
He takes Norwich’s U23 boss, Matt Gill, with him.
Back in Norfolk, Norwich get set for Brentford at Carrow Road with Emi Buendia the focus of Daniel Farke’s press conference.
They’re impressed at how quickly he’s managed to adapt.
“To adapt to the English Championship is tough but he had no pre-season really because of any injury problem he had. I can only praise his workload, and not just with the ball but the pressing. That is not normal for an offensive player who comes from a South American culture and wants to do something magical on the ball.”
There is still room to improve, though. Despite assists, Farke says Buendia can still add some goals to his game.
He does just that on Saturday, scoring the winner as Norwich beat Brentford.
That’s now seven wins in nine games.
Norwich move level on points with second-placed Leeds.
“We are on an amazing run, the commitment is there and the boys are working for each other,” says Tim Krul afterwards. “We’re building something special.”
Take two. Mario thinks not
A midweek defeat to Premier League Bournemouth does little to dampen spirits, even if it comes with a sense of déjà vu.
A 2-1 defeat, away from home, to a Premier League side, in the League Cup, after a run of good form? Haven’t Norwich City been here before?
“Stop thinking about it!” says Mario Vrancic. “In football sometimes in two weeks everything can change. Let’s not compare with last season. This is a different team to 12 months ago.”
Bournemouth boss, Eddie Howe, seems to agree.
“A really improving team who on that evidence will take some stopping in the Championship.”
Sheffield Wednesday certainly can’t stop them. Norwich visit Hillsborough at the weekend and win 4-0, climbing to the top of the Championship in style.
They stand as one of the form teams in Europe.
That’s 25 points from 30 games, delivered with an increasingly impressive style in play. Only four teams on the continent – let alone in the country – have a better record over the last 10 games.
Farke, however, isn’t getting ahead of himself. “We need at least six more wins to stay in this league.”
Leeds regain top spot the next day but a week on, the stage is Norwich’s again with Marcelo Bielsa’s side taking on West Brom in the evening game.
The Canaries have Millwall in the afternoon at Carrow Road.
At half-time, they’re 1-0 down.
At full-time, well, BBC Radio Norfolk’s Chris Goreham says it best:
So, late on, there’ll be time for one last Norwich attack.
It’s 3-3 at Carrow Road.
It’s been a thrilling afternoon in the Championship.
Zimmermann to Buendia. Buendia sets off over the halfway line perhaps for one last time. Slides it to Klose on the left-hand side.
Klose now… halfway inside the Millwall half, lays it off for Buendia…
Buendia, lovely! Vrancic edge of the penalty area, through for Pukki, IS THIS THE CHANCE FOR PUKKI?!
YES, IT IS!
YES! IT! IS!
PUKKI MAKES UP FOR THAT MISSED PENALTY, HE HAS SCORED IN THE SEVENTH MINUTE OF STOPPAGE TIME AND IT IS NORWICH FOUR, MILLWALL THREE!
Norwich equalise early in the second-half through Teemu Pukki. They get a penalty seven minutes later. He misses.
When Moritz Leitner takes the ball down and swipes a volley gloriously into the corner from 20 yards, it looks as if normal service is all set to be resumed.
“We are top of the league!” reverberates around the ground.
Millwall equalise within seconds. They go 3-2 up just minutes later.
It takes a stoppage time leveller from Jordan Rhodes, followed by that last gasp Teemu Pukki winner to spark bedlam at Carrow Road.
“We have to wait two weeks to be on the pitch again and the unity and atmosphere that we have at the moment at Carrow Road is outstanding. You can feel the spirit and the unity between the team and the fans and this helped us a lot, even in this game because otherwise you can’t come back so often,” says Daniel Farke afterwards.
“This is one of those nights when we all love this game so much.”
It gets even better when West Brom beat Leeds 4-1.
Norwich go into the international break as league leaders.
Cory tweets about Norwich City on @iwritethings23 and @coryvwriter for business. He has also written a short film which explores mental health which you can support through the crowdfunding site for ‘I Love You Guys’