Michael Bailey: Norwich City's sliding doors moment as eyes switch to the summer
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So Norwich City's season is finished, a few lessons will have been learned and attention can switch to a big summer - and then there was James Maddison's knee injury. MICHAEL BAILEY begins the long look forward…
The best place to start is with a confession. This glorious post-Sheffield Wednesday space was lovingly earmarked with the title: ‘What do Norwich City need to do this summer?’ and the discussion points were all there waiting for us.
Then 11 minutes into the Canaries’ final game of the season, everything was turned on its head.
Let’s be clear from the off. We still don’t know how serious James Maddison’s knee injury is. A lot of people are worried it’s a bad one and several months out could await – but all that can be is speculation, when no one actually knows yet for sure.
So in reality, here we are. Sliding doors territory – and a significant story to play out, either side of the big priority facing Norwich City Football Club this summer: survival.
Last season City took a summer hit of about £11m in revenue, as their parachute payments dropped after failing to make an immediate Premier League return.
There were seven free hits in terms of players to release, Jacob Murphy’s boyhood club came calling off the back of his England Under-21 breakthrough and when more offers came in for their bigger earners, City cut their cloth accordingly.
Everyone considered it a hugely important summer to ensure the club could sustain a sound footing – and it was. But that was only ever part one, ahead of its conclusion 12 months later.
The drop in parachute payments awaiting City this summer is from about £32m to zilch. Nada. Nowt. Nought. Meanwhile, the wage bill remains on the high side for any Championship club – including those that have been relegated more recently than them.
With Alex Tettey agreeing a sizeable pay cut, there remained only one free hit this summer – and that brought Wes Hoolahan’s big goodbye against Leeds.
Fortunately some of the sales – Alex Pritchard in particular – during the season mean the funding gap City are currently faced with appears to be around £20m, if not more – and yes, that’s before anyone looks at where City need to strengthen for next season.
At least Huddersfield’s top-flight survival could pop an extra £1m in the pot from Pritchard’s add-ons.
So City’s plan A was obvious – and could still happen. That big-money bid for one of English football’s brightest talents comes in nice and early, and with it sporting director Stuart Webber and head coach Daniel Farke can work out how they are going to trade in and out this summer to make things better come August – without fretting too much over the club’s financial position.
A younger squad with a degree of balance, its midfield should be something to work with. Defensive strength with Ben Godfrey back and Tettey signed on, alongside attacking creativity that will welcome Kenny McLean and hope to secure Moritz Leitner.
Maybe City could push the boat out to tempt Harrison Reed into a longer stay. Maybe offers for City’s Portuguese pair might convince the club to cash in.
And we all know about the need for a goalkeeper and renewed forward options.
Likewise if there was anyone City really wanted to keep here for next season – an essential building block – that wouldn’t represent too much of an issue to achieve, providing the player was also on board with it.
What City may now have to consider is their unpalatable plan B – unpalatable for all parties, given Maddison’s efforts this season deserve so much more than a summer on the sidelines.
Obviously we would all love to see Maddison for a little bit longer in a Norwich shirt, terrorising the Championship. Limping off at Hillsborough is not the way anyone would want it to end.
But no one should be in any doubt over the intrinsic link City’s ability to sell Maddison has on them plugging the gaping hole in their finances.
It’s a one-off situation, of course. One created by the stark gulf between Premier League and EFL revenues – and one those in Suffolk are already taking a bit of pleasure in pointing out.
But that doesn’t alter the reality. Plan B still needs City to find £20m to deal with their present financial commitments and in the worse case scenario, without being able to sell James Maddison.
Take a moment right now, and ask yourself: How would you do it?
How do City recruit new players when they still have so much money to find? How do they honour any pre-contract agreements to sign players?
How do they say no to bids for their players when they may have a difficult decision to make?
It may need others to step up. To step in. To help out. And all with the backdrop of a young man, no doubt devastated at having to deal with such an injury.
There is no point saying which scenario is better for everyone. Our empathy solely belongs to City’s number 23.
But reality also means there will be a lot of fingers tightly crossed over James Maddison’s knee – and what happens next.
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