Come the conclusion of the 2023/24 campaign, few head coaches will be enjoying a stiffer drink than David Wagner, irrespective of how it ends. 

There was a point earlier in the campaign where Wagner laughed off comparisons between what he endured during his time at Schalke, where virtually every role between him and the hierarchy changed over his tenure, to his time at Carrow Road.


But the shocks he has to absorb throughout this campaign, from a change in sporting director to external criticism to on-pitch challenges, would wear down even the most granite-chiselled of characters. 

Managing Norwich this season, of all seasons, has been remarkably tough. Given its running model and ownership has often been lauded for its consistency, there has been little of that around throughout the campaign. 

The plates he has had to spin must have been exhausting on a human level. It is hard not to feel admiration about the way he has approached this campaign whilst constant speculation has persisted throughout. 

Given the context of how everything has unfolded - multiple things can be true.

For example - it is true that Wagner has done a remarkable job to turnaround the ship. It is true that he has led with emotional intelligence, integrity and has always retained the trust of a dressing room totally behind him. It is true that the record at Carrow Road, the best since Paul Lambert's class of 2009/10, is incredible. 

It is also true that the away form hasn’t been good enough, with Norwich sitting 19th having only beaten just two teams in the bottom half of the division. It is also true that some performances have been underpar and it is true the management of the squad in recent weeks is questionable at best. 

Those two things don't need to be mutually exclusive - it is something that can exist within a single supporter should that be their view.

But it is also true that Wagner has led Norwich to sixth place with four league matches to play with a five-point cushion, albeit some of the chasing pack have a game in hand. He deserves immense and full praise for the position he has worked Norwich into. 

The Pink Un: David Wagner has had the full backing of Norwich City's squad.David Wagner has had the full backing of Norwich City's squad. (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

Given the position in November, that is something very few had foreseen happening, even those within the corridors of power at Carrow Road who came very close to pulling the plug on his tenure after defeats to Sunderland and Blackburn. 

It is one of the managerial stories of the season. Perhaps the final chapter includes an unlikely promotion at Wembley - but even if it doesn't, Wagner can say he looked down at the precipice and survived. Not many coaches in those circumstances live to tell the tale of seven defeats in nine. 

But Wagner has. Regardless of the very fair and live criticisms that remain - it would be tough for even the harshest critics of the City boss to begrudge him praise for the turnaround. 

Rightly or wrongly, the scars from that run in autumn are still on full display after every result. Even now. The truth is, coaches are rarely as good or bad as any run of form. A truer reflection of their work is only gained by considering context and performance. 

The big question is about what happens next - only sporting director Ben Knapper and a select few in positions of power truly know the answer. The rest of us are left guessing, wondering and speculating.

In truth, that is noise that Wagner has had to contend with since Knapper's arrival. Even in the period of victories it has been, perhaps unfairly, swirling with varying degrees of gusto - let alone when they fail to record three points. 

Throughout this season there has been a sense of short-termism and sticking plasters that have persisted, right from City's recruitment strategy last summer to the here and now - with Wagner feeling his squad is short of impact from the bench. 

The Pink Un: Ben Knapper - the man making the footballing decisions at Norwich City.Ben Knapper - the man making the footballing decisions at Norwich City. (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

Wagner hasn't been shy at pointing those holes within his squad towards the decisions that Knapper made in January that saw Przemyslaw Placheta, Adam Forshaw and Adam Idah depart the club with only Sydney van Hooijdonk arriving. It's hard to argue with him. 

The theory was decided to lighten the squad from a financial perspective as well as creating slots for young talent to fill. 

And they have. Ken Aboh and Finley Welch have been matchday squad regulars. They've been joined by Waylon Renecke and Guilherme Montoia, with Pedro Lima travelling with City but not yet being included on the bench. It's hard to argue with that, too. 

But it only works as a theory if there is alignment and the head coach has the trust of those options and deems them suitable for the task. Freebies cannot be handed out. 

None of them have played a minute in the last four matches, and neither has January signing van Hooijdonk. Knapper and City's recruitment team orchestrated his move from Bologna. 

There is much to dissect alone within that statement - but Wagner has not felt they are the right players to drop into Championship matches given the stakes. That naturally means he is working with a thinner base of players than preferable. 

Injuries haven't aided that - but should City require them in the last four games, their lack of minutes will be problematic to them impacting matches. Just as van Hoojidonk may be required to do if Sargent is sidelined for any length of time. 

It has meant Norwich are overloading a smaller group of players and navigating the risks of increased injuries that comes with that. When Wagner talks about thinness, he is talking about quality as much as numbers. 

The Pink Un: Sydney van Hooijdonk has had a watching brief at Norwich City thus far.Sydney van Hooijdonk has had a watching brief at Norwich City thus far. (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

Wagner has been forced to spin plates this season - he will need to do so again to strike the right balance. But it will require taking risks and handing opportunities to those players who haven't been called upon thus far. 

The fact he has managed to do so for so long with calmness and consistency, whilst overseeing a change in fortunes, is impressive. 

The long-term ramifications and alignment with Knapper's wider ideas can wait until the end of the campaign. That is the apt time for that conversation - but Wagner, even if he admits he has disagreed with the decision made, has managed to get results - however they have arrived. Again, he deserves credit for doing so. 

It will be interesting to see if Wagner reflects that this has been his toughest in a long career in football management. But that is for the future - as is much of the debate that surrounds him.