Paddy Davitt: Webber maps out the lessons City must learn
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Listen to Stuart Webber dissect what went wrong for Norwich City in the Premier League and you begin to see how he plans to put it right.
The Canaries’ sporting director is a man who never leaves you in any doubt what he thinks. His public utterances can be brutally honest, bordering on combative.
He might have opted not to name him but few, if any, supporters were in doubt Todd Cantwell’s pitchside slump after the home defeat to Brighton was in Webber’s mind when he graphically outlined why he had no time to sulk or lick his wounds.
Webber insisted he is happy to don the ‘scapegoat’ tag if that is what it takes to deflect attention away from Daniel Farke and a playing squad who have fallen a long way short.
Webber is right. The buck ultimately stops with him as the footballing figurehead at Carrow Road. But a blame game misses the point from here. It is futile and counter-productive.
City’s sporting director is going nowhere. By his own admission, neither is Farke. So now the focus shifts to what they have learnt in the past 12 months in the unforgiving English top flight and what they need to put into practice; not only to plot another Championship promotion-winning campaign but beyond that to ensure the next stay in the Premier League is neither brief nor embarrassingly inept.
Recruitment is clearly a key facet that needs to improve.
Webber honestly and openly admitted back in January he had failed Farke in that regard following the Championship title win.
The financial picture, even in a post-lockdown football industry with the negative impact from the pandemic, would appear to be far healthier going into the upcoming transfer window.
Buying players is not the issue. Buying the right type with the right mentality and the right physical attributes will hold the key to the next phase of this project.
Webber highlighted both strands when prompted last week for the lessons he will take from an ultimately doomed crack at the Premier League the first time around.
“The physicality of the league is the first thing. Not so much fitness because we have pretty much out-run 90pc of the teams we have played. But every team was bigger than us. Even their small players are big,” he said.
“And the pace in this league is unbelievable. Every team has three or four Michail Antonios. We have been in so many games this season and, I like F1 as a sport, it is akin to teams just turning up their engines for the last qualifying run. They can do that for 20 minutes in a game and bang you are 2-0 down and you think, what has happened there?
“It started at Anfield. We were 4-0 down at half-time but you could argue we were the better team. They could just turn it on for those passages of play.” But it is not just about bigger, faster, stronger. A Premier League player or head coach, in Webber’s view, must also handle all that comes with being part of a global circus.
“The mental strain on players and staff of being in the Premier League is huge,” he said. “You don’t realise how irrelevant you are in the Championship until you get to the Premier League.
“The Championship is a great league. Don’t get me wrong. But take something like the media coverage.
“It is totally different. Everyone has an opinion, every single day, on the radio or the television, and that scrutiny on people I can see eats some players alive, and their families.
“But the only way you deal with it is to experience and come through it the other side. Don’t believe your own hype when you get told how great you are, because they will be on your case next week. I don’t think it is the best league in the world but it is the richest.
“Right now we are getting a lot of criticism, and we have to take it because it hasn’t worked.
“Our job, as I see it now, is to shut those people up and come back and prove we can do it better.
“There are a lot of people on a long list who we need to prove wrong. We need to bottle that as energy to drive us, and not eat us up.”
Combative. It is not the worst trait for Norwich to have from the very top downwards.
Any hangover or any sense the Canaries return to the Football League fatally wounded will be seized upon in the unforgiving Championship.
Only then can we start to judge if the lessons have been learnt.