Paddy’s Pointers: Norwich City, coronavirus and the path forward

PUBLISHED: 09:27 15 March 2020 | UPDATED: 09:27 15 March 2020

Daniel Farke, his Norwich City squad and backroom staff have to put plans in place during a shutdown of the Premier League season until at least April 4 Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Daniel Farke, his Norwich City squad and backroom staff have to put plans in place during a shutdown of the Premier League season until at least April 4 Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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The suspension of the Premier League in response to the spread of coronavirus leaves Norwich City in uncharted waters. Paddy Davitt looks for some much-needed context.

1. Proper leadership required

This is bigger than football, bigger than sport. This, is in the words of the prime minister on Thursday, is 'the biggest risk to public health in a generation'.

The Premier League proved far too reactive in the escalating hours following that Downing Street briefing that led to the suspension of all professional football in England.

Witness the contradictory messaging late on Thursday night when first they announced all games would go ahead and then, following the news Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta had been diagnosed with COVID-19, issued another official directive just 23 minutes later to tee up an emergency meeting.

Add the overnight news Chelsea youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi was the next high profile Premier League figure to self-isolate and it was an entirely predictable outcome the Premier League fell into line with not only the other major leagues in Europe but sport in general.

From here, the richest, most powerful league in the world needs to be clear in the messaging. Reports of a further scheduled meeting this week could provide more clarity.

News of Mikel Arteta's coronavirus diagnosis forced the Premier League to take decisive action Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdNews of Mikel Arteta's coronavirus diagnosis forced the Premier League to take decisive action Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

This may well be an unprecedented, fluid situation.

Football in the grand scheme of things may be immaterial.

Nevertheless given how much it means to so many and how much influence it has, it needs to play a leading role. At present it appears buffeted by events. However seismic.

2. Null and void

It was inevitable in the aftermath of the decision to suspend the professional game social media would fan some of the more fanciful scenarios regarding what could happen from here.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spoke for football lovers everywhere after the Premier League suspended the game until April 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdLiverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spoke for football lovers everywhere after the Premier League suspended the game until April Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

With a few choice jibes at what this might mean for Paul Lambert and his long term career prospects at Ipswich Town.

But there appears to be one proposal gaining traction, if you take the temperature from the national media over the weekend.

A 22-member Premier League next season on the basis there is no resumption to the current competition if, as expected in most quarters, this suspension goes well beyond the initial April 4 timeline.

That would mean no relegation for City or any of their survival rivals.

Plus an invitation extended to the Championship's top two, Leeds and West Brom, and no play-off for a third promotion spot; with a side dish of scrapping the League Cup next season to accommodate the expanded top flight before possibly five clubs are relegated to restore the current equilibrium.

It sounds convoluted on the face of it and ripe for legal challenges.

Certainly those clubs occupying the current play-off spots in the Championship would hardly accept such a proposal willingly.

While an expanded top flight would distort the 20-way share of broadcast revenue.

'Null and void' might not be an option the majority of the Premier League clubs favour but clearly it might take a radical solution to find a path through. We await developments.

3. Cashflow concerns

Norwich City pride themselves on the self-sufficient, self-funded approach which was the direction of travel that originally brought Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke to Carrow Road.

But membership of the Premier League should insulate them from the financial turmoil that is sure to afflict the lowest branches of the Football League for however long football is suspended in England.

Timm Klose also featured in the video.  Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdTimm Klose also featured in the video. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

That is the view of Stoke City chairman, and founder of a well known betting company, Peter Coates.

The Potters is likely to be one of the few clubs outside the top tier able to withstand the shocks from no football and no gate receipts.

'I don't think the financial implications will hit the Premier League hard because their income comes from media and broadcasting, so they have a cushion against this.

'For the rest of football, it's quite different as they rely on gate receipts and commercial activities, with a very small part coming from the media.

'This will have serious financial implications, with some clubs possibly running out of money.'

Rochdale's chief executive has calculated missing out on potential revenue from their remaining home league games could equate to £250,000. A sizeable sum for Dale but a fraction of one televised top flight appearance fee for the Canaries.

That simply cannot be allowed to happen.

Teemu Pukki will get an enforced break after a heavy workload for club and country Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdTeemu Pukki will get an enforced break after a heavy workload for club and country Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

A competitive edge on the pitch in English football should not extend to a collective lack of responsibility to tackle an era-defining issue - not only from those running the game but those in charge of football clubs.

This is no time for selfish self-interest.

4. What next for Farke and his players?

Football might not return on the scheduled weekend of April 4, if the spread of the virus continues to follow the path charted by the government.

But football will return.

In the meantime Daniel Farke and his players, backed by the club's sports science and medical personnel, have to work out how they can maintain a level of elite performance over a prolonged period for the eventual resumption.

Farke gave a clear insight the Canaries are already focusing on the tailoring of training to individual plans on Saturday, in a bid to strike the right balance between the mental and physical wellbeing of his players.

He also referenced the upside in terms of allowing the longer term injured players more time to recover for whatever lies ahead in the next few months. Allied to that the potential to get Timm Klose nearer the first team and some vital rest for Teemu Pukki.

That might turn into an extended period for the Finn, if the domestic season does not resume and there is no European Championships to prepare for either.

But if City do pick up where they left off against Arsenal at the Emirates they would also need to add a pre-season dimension to their planning. Perhaps even a practice match or two before they can return to the relegation fray.

More logistical challenges Farke could well do without.

5. Three cheers for Jurgen

He might have taken Liverpool's Champions League exit badly but Jurgen Klopp's message to the Reds' fans, in the wake of the suspension notice, cut across club colours or allegiances.

'I've said before that football always seems the most important of the least important things,' he said, in an open letter on Liverpool's official site. 'Today, football and football matches really aren't important at all.

'If it's a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it's no contest. Really, it isn't.

'None of us know in this moment what the final outcome will be, but as a team we have to have belief that the authorities make decisions based on sound judgement and morality. Please look after yourselves and look out for each other.'

Farke was similarly focused on the personal element to this unprecedented situation.

'We know have to act carefully and responsibly during what is a stormy and crazy time for society,' he said, on his club's site. 'We have a duty to look after those around us.

'Yes, we are working with football players here in Norwich City, but also we are working with human beings.'

There really is no more to be said.

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