Paddy Davitt on Norwich City’s CEO search
PUBLISHED: 07:00 01 March 2017
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Norwich City’s Championship season has contained enough turbulence without injecting any more over the run-in.
Whether you share the view of the majority or the minority, Alex Neil’s squad still have a shot at promotion starting with Saturday’s trip to play-off rivals Sheffield Wednesday. Given a wretched pre-festive run of two league wins from 12 that could be portrayed as an achievement in its own right.
Neil himself alluded to this fact after the recent defeat at Burton Albion, when he correctly pointed out without a concerted recent upturn one of the pre-season promotion favourites would have been cut even further adrift.
There will be plenty of time for recriminations and reflections when the guns fall silent in May, but that mid-season spiral is likely to feature heavily in the search for answers.
A malaise on the pitch sought many to draw parallels with events off it, culminating in the departure of Jez Moxey. The man earmarked as David McNally’s natural successor lasted barely six months in post before departing shortly after the January transfer window concluded.
Moxey’s short-lived tenure was marked by an FA Cup ticket pricing debacle, those ill-judged AGM soundbites regarding promotion and half-hearted public backing for Neil that did little to assuage the deep unrest amongst a fan base who felt they were not being listened to. The Canaries have made it clear, since Moxey’s exit, communication channels have to be better. Positive steps in that direction have already happened with some supporters’ groups and there appears an acknowledgement bridges must be repaired, because that sense of drift and a club unsure of its strategic direction were routine charges levelled under Moxey’s stewardship.
The partnership may have dissolved abruptly, the divorce concluded swiftly, but Norwich’s top brass will take their time to find a potential successor. There is now a much broader process currently underway at Carrow Road. All areas of the business are being examined as part of a forensic review designed to move the club forward off the pitch - to improve the corporate framework - and maximise the chances of bringing those good times back after Premier League relegation and this season’s struggles.
It will be weeks, not days, before City’s leadership plans take shape. The chief executive vacancy is just one part of that overall process.
Norwich fans want a club fit for purpose both on and off the pitch; able to adapt to new challenges and the financial realities of plotting a difficult route ahead. From the boardroom down the focus is solely on Neil’s attempts to galvanise his squad for the run-in.
Chairman Ed Balls said City’s board would take time to ‘deliberate on a fresh approach’ in the aftermath of Moxey’s shock departure. That holds true one month on; a four-week period of relative stability with Neil’s men suffering just the one, painful setback at Burton on the pitch and Steve Stone a steadying influence off it, in his second stint as interim chief executive. Any accusations of inertia are wide of the mark.
A number of Neil’s squad is entering the final months of current deals but, in the manner those protracted negotiations secured Martin Olsson on a new longer term contract to facilitate a much bigger transfer fee when he completed his Swansea switch, the club hold the balance of power in player negotiations.
The timing of Moxey’s departure in that process should not be overlooked. It ensured a smooth finish to the January trading window, to conclude deadline day deals involving Robbie Brady, Yanic Wildschut and Mitchell Dijks.
It also signalled the start of a defining phase on the pitch and a chance to take stock off it to prepare for whatever scenario the Canaries face this summer.
There is nothing to be gained from a hasty CEO appointment between now and May. The groundwork is being laid but it is what happens over the next 12 games that dictates the future direction of travel.
Sunday’s derby was a salutary reminder of the debilitating effects of a prolonged spell in the Championship. That ironic round of applause which marked Ipswich’s longevity at this level was both amusing and a cautionary warning.
Norwich need to get it right on the grass and in the boardroom. If that requires a period of reflection and a detailed analysis of what has gone wrong in recent times then few would argue it is the best course of action.