Paddy Davitt: Stuart Webber’s milestone at Norwich City

PUBLISHED: 06:05 06 April 2018

Stuart Webber has overseen a major period of change in his first 12 months. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Stuart Webber has overseen a major period of change in his first 12 months. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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Stuart Webber’s first year as Norwich City’s sporting director has triggered huge change from top to bottom at Carrow Road. Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt assesses the state of play 12 months in.

Jonny Howson moved on to Middlesbrough. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdJonny Howson moved on to Middlesbrough. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The jury must remain out on Norwich City’s brave new world, but Stuart Webber is indisputably a man of action.

That much is clear from the seismic change he has overseen in his first 12 months at Carrow Road.

Webber inherited a bloated squad that had failed big-time back in the Championship under Alex Neil.

The contraction in the finances necessitated blood-letting on a scale surely never seen before in these parts.

No sentiment was shown to players like John Ruddy, synonymous with the club’s Premier League era. No attempt to find a solution to bridge the financial gulf in contract negotiations.

Ruddy was gone, along with a number of the old guard.

Jonny Howson got his wish to return north later that summer. But there was a stinging parting shot from Norwich’s sporting director, regarding what Webber perceived as his ‘unprofessional’ approach to engineering an exit.

It was brutally honest and unvarnished.

John Ruddy was part of a high profile cull of former Norwich City players. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdJohn Ruddy was part of a high profile cull of former Norwich City players. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

For those Norwich fans tired of the same old it was fresh evidence their club had embraced a new direction.

Webber’s public personna is clearly a departure from previous football figureheads at Carrow Road, in the way he communicates with refreshing frankness.

Personal capital was invested in Daniel Farke’s appointment.

A measured, cultured head coach who could well have headed to Huddersfield Town had events not conspired to attract both to Norfolk.

Farke’s stock at Borussia Dortmund II was high enough to be earmarked as a potential replacement for David Wagner, when his fellow German was attracting admiring glances from the Bundesliga.

Wagner instead opted to complete his Premier League mission at the Terriers.

Farke is not a clone of Wagner.

The style of football is more classical than heavy rock but there is a parallel with the time it took to unleash the forward propulsion that swept Huddersfield to the top flight.

Easy to forget now, but Wagner finished 19th in his first Championship season in West Yorkshire prior to sweeping to promotion at Wembley.

City’s current campaign is meandering to a stale climax after that second-half collapse at QPR on Easter Monday made it one win in 10.

The chronic goal shortage, the periods of defensive leakage - well-thumbed topics discussed liberally elsewhere.

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It is hard to buy into a ‘work in progress’ when you see the charitable manner of Norwich’s efforts at Loftus Road, but that is exactly what this remains.

Webber has said or done nothing in his first 12 months to suggest he is happy with the status quo; or willing to settle for his lot.

Even in his reply to questions about the brand of football earlier this week you heard an acknowledgement the failure to score enough goals to win enough matches is unacceptable.

Ditto the lack of entertainment for long-suffering home fans.

The messages are getting through.

That Norwich have been unable to launch a concerted assault on the top six is not an admission the ‘project’ has failed; merely an acceptance the turnaround will take longer and require further surgery in the next transfer window, and arguably the one after.

Then and only then can you realistically hold Webber and Farke to account.

Whether it is front of house, in the appointment of a first overseas coach, or the influx of continental imports, or the willingness to give raw talent a chance, Webber has been anything but indecisive in his first year.

The size of Webber’s ‘in’ tray should not be dismissed lightly.

His brief is as much about long-term sustainability as it is short-term success.

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One of his first decisions after being unveiled was not aimed at the first team, but the departure of key personnel in the academy.

On the eve of this first anniversary there was another gear change with the £5m take-up of the Canaries’ bond to transform dated Colney facilities.

Some supporters, frustrated at the mid-table mediocrity served up this season may wish to see more resources and energy directed at the sharp end, but Webber was appointed with a wide-ranging remit to deliver a strategy beyond the season-to-season rhythm that defines most football clubs.

That is a hard sell for fans who want instant gratification, and pay enough for the privilege, but 12 months into Webber’s tenure it is clear he is unlikely to compromise in the pursuit of popularity.

That means he has to deliver.

He knows that better than anyone.

“We’ve got a big job on our hands,” he said, back on his first day in the job. “Everyone knows that, so let’s stick together and get on with it.”

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