Michael Bailey: The uncomfortable truth now facing Norwich City’s corridors of power cannot be ignored – otherwise the recriminations will be long and painful
PUBLISHED: 23:51 09 March 2017 | UPDATED: 15:10 12 March 2017
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It’s remarkable how swift the attention switches. Following Saturday’s Hillsborough humiliation it was all about where such a potentially exciting season had gone so terribly wrong for Norwich City – with seeds sown from the start of 2016.
By the time the Canaries had left Bristol City’s impressively-revamped Ashton Gate on Tuesday, the only possible line of discourse was where on earth City head now.
If that defeat to Sheffield Wednesday delivered the realisation Norwich aren’t up to it this season, it was the midweek draw when mediocrity completed its Norwich City takeover.
And if you want to apportion blame to the players out on the pitch, remember the manager’s sole remit is to get the best out of those players. If he doesn’t, his job is to carry the can.
That can is quite heavy now. Alex Neil has been carrying it since the complete lack of reaction City gave to their Brighton hiding, when they lost at home to Leeds. At that moment, Neil should have been told it wasn’t working – assuming the goal was to return to the Premier League this season.
But then you start to wonder – at the very top of the club, from those making the decisions on behalf of every paying and caring City fan, was that really the goal?
Since Paul Lambert returned the Canaries to the top flight, City’s wage bill never broke out of the bottom three.
The graft was hard – even for fans. Some justified relegation with the belief winning a few more games in the Championship would be more enjoyable.
As was said at the time, it’s not that simple.
Regardless of approaches, Carrow Road’s custodians had their financial model and stuck to it out of both choice and belief. Maybe it could have worked if every penny had been spent well. But it wasn’t, and Norwich duly perished to the point some may have felt the top flight wasn’t necessarily the best place to be.
That is the context behind this term, where the board’s belief in Alex Neil usurped their belief in promotion. Where the suggestion the City boss had done it in the Championship before, only stood up if they were planning to recruit him in January.
Where being a strong force for good in the community and successful on the pitch became mutually exclusive.
And where everything from digging in over keeping their best players, to at least driving a painfully hard bargain when they did choose to sell, all pointed to enough members of the City boardroom being happy to accept where they find themselves now – midtable and mediocre.
If that isn’t the case, then supporters deserve an apology for what at worst amounts to a severe lack of judgment.
I fear the City board either isn’t aware or doesn’t understand the hideous unrest among fans – not all of them, but definitely most.
I fear the likes of Delia and Michael forget that when they helped stabilise the football club, getting 16,000 through the gates at Carrow Road was considered a big crowd and beating a side competing for a play-off place was a scalp.
City’s wonderful run of recent seasons was built on a few superbly canny appointments and then a steady stream of Premier League revenue that approached – if not exceeded – a bewildering £200m. It was a whirlwind to follow and no fan will forget it.
But just like those moments are now memories, so is the money. The cooperative model might have had a chance alongside that wealthy benefactor called the Premier League. Without it, the model works for as long as the club has assets to sell.
It only took a brief walk around Ashton Gate on Tuesday to both appreciate how far the bar is rising across the Championship, and how Norwich City need to understand that with both Carrow Road and Colney, there’s no rule to say they can’t fall behind where they may feel they deserve to be.
And if anyone wants to simply write all this off as doom-mongering, as my fully-blown meltdown into negativity following one too many treks across the country watching unsubstantial football lacking any notable sign of a will to win or drive to succeed, then you simply are not taking our club’s future seriously enough.
And that would be the greatest misjudgment of them all.