Michael Bailey: Before Norwich City kick a ball, don’t forget who the real enemies are
©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222
First things first, I hope you enjoyed your summer away from football. Or at least Norwich City. Although even in that regard, it’s been a busy close season.
Mine? Well that was spent mostly growing a beard and catching up with Game of Thrones (GOT) from the very beginning. The two aren’t linked, I can assure you.
And I’m not about to embark on a long metaphor linking the record-breaking television series about Medieval warfare with Championship football. Honest. It’s only going to be a short one.
You see, the gist of GOT from what I can tell is different groups of humans bickering over stuff – when the reality is they need to get stuck in together to defeat the real enemy at hand.
For the record I’m only on season five, so I don’t want TV anoraks hanging me out to dry if I’m still a bit short on details.
But the sentiment seems perfect ahead of City’s competitive return – and indeed, competitive start under Daniel Farke.
After all, the questions about Russell Martin never go away despite how subjective most of them can be. Arguments over where all the money has gone littered the summer. The atmosphere at Carrow Road has become a running joke.
In a football-less summer, that’s all part of the fun. But come Saturday afternoon, everything changes.
The only thing every Norwich City fan shelling out their money – be it on tickets, access to coverage or a purple shirt – should want is joy in following their club. Maybe most of all, pride. Puffing out chests at following a team that oozes passion, enthusiasm, spirit and even quality on the pitch – and without the running jokes that undermine the prospect of the following week.
No ball has been kicked in anger yet and if this all sounds idealistic, then that’s because it is – generally, this is the only time during the year such sentiments in football can be humoured.
I remember all too well 12 months ago, when all this mind could wonder ahead of the new season was how it all seemed destined to unravel. And so it did.
This time around? I haven’t a clue. There have never been so many unknowns at Carrow Road – and yet, unknown is far from the same as unable. The initial excitement at least, will come from finding out.
So assuming we’ve all united behind the common cause of good amidst the rest of the Championship evil, what are City actually up against next season? Well let me have a go at that in the space of about eight paragraphs.
The second tier is going to be seriously tough – not through the quantity of teams challenging, but the quality. Middlesbrough have done a very decent – and expensive – recruitment job and sadly even my own doubts over Garry Monk aren’t outweighed by the fact they look the team to beat.
Aston Villa will be dominated by two words: John Terry. Either his signing will be a masterstroke, or a millstone. There will be no in between. Steve Bruce will have them go close.
Boro’s fellow relegatees look a bit messy. Hull are more likely to change their name to United than become it, while Sunderland’s capture of James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban will have some City fans rubbing their hands.
Fulham have hung on to most key figures – so far, crucially including their manager – and still found £5m for a striker. They will be top six minimum, surely.
However, I can’t see Leeds and Reading repeating last season’s tricks. Even Sheffield Wednesday may find third time lucky a push with Carlos Carvalhal. Derby will improve, while if Harry Redknapp gets to build on the Birmingham that were running sixth last season rather than the almost relegated variety, they could prove contenders – alongside Wolves, whose ex-City duo of Ryan Bennett and John Ruddy will be keenly watched from these parts.
I’ve never been to Bramall Lane, so Sheffield United’s promotion is good news – and they are the kind of club that may surprise a few.
On a similar theme, it’s hard not to think Neil Warnock will have Cardiff in the top half and pushing for even more.
But the rest appear also-rans. Preston will be the Alex Neil show as he tries to rebuild his reputation, while Ipswich will be safe from relegation as long as they keep hold of Mick McCarthy – which may prove very hard to do, once a bad run arrives.
Which leaves Norwich City. A fully fit side that still has enough to go close – especially if their head coach delivers on what is such a highly regarded reputation.
Farke will try to wring out every last drop from his players. As for the fans, it’ll be your job to wring every last push out of each other in their direction. United. As City.