It’s been a hectic few weeks at academy level, with the huge volume of games being played as well as the head of football development Steve Weaver departing.  

With Weaver’s exit confirmed during April, Norwich are currently looking for his successor, and have subsequently posted the job advert online - broadening their search to potential suitors. With this in mind, the appointment is likely to be someone external, unless an internal option impresses. 


I’m thoroughly in favour of an external appointment, as the academy requires a new face at the helm who can set the standards for a proactive future. In recent seasons, the academy has been underperforming - especially since the arrival of David Wagner.

Throughout Wagner’s reign, he showed a huge reluctance to develop academy talent - sticking with his experienced players firmly. Unfortunately for the German, that is an unacceptable approach at Norwich, as the club rely on youth player development in order to fund the club in a sustainable manner. 

Although it was blatantly obvious that Wagner wasn’t interested in giving opportunities to his talented youngsters, the Bristol Rovers game in the FA Cup was telling. This was because Wagner opted to include Przemyslaw Placheta on the bench, despite the winger leaving the club two days later. During that time, a wide range of U21s players were performing at a high level, yet they were omitted. They were then fully included on the bench a month later, but only as a box ticking exercise.

Additionally, they were then hinted at in the press by the manager, with Wagner moaning about his ‘lack of squad depth’ - despite player development being a key criteria to his job. 

During the time period between Ben Knapper’s arrival as sporting director, and Wagner’s departure, there was a distinct lack of alignment in beliefs between Weaver, Knapper and Wagner - which was showcased publicly. To have a thriving academy and pathway, alignment between the first team manager, sporting director and head of academy has to be apparent - otherwise you’re already defeating the purpose of integrating youth into the first team. 

The Pink Un: Steve Weaver departed his role as head of football development at Norwich City after seven years.Steve Weaver departed his role as head of football development at Norwich City after seven years. (Image: Newsquest)

Alignment of values was certainly implemented during Daniel Farke’s reign, with Stuart Webber and Weaver positively adhering to the belief of integrating youth into the first team.

During Weaver’s tenure there were a total of 24 players progressing through the ranks, with the large majority of them integrated during the Farke tenure.  

However, with the numbers decreasing as time has developed, there’s been a lack of activity in recent times - escalating to all areas of the academy being scrutinised. Albeit Wagner was a factor, all the blame can’t be pushed to his door. 

During Weaver’s tenure, there was a heavily oriented ideology - purely based on player development. Albeit, Weaver will rightfully argue that the volume of players he produced is highly impressive, it doesn’t eliminate his faults.

Weaver has admitted on a number of occasions that results are unimportant in youth football, and player development is critical. Although that’s a reasonable mindset to portray to the wider audience, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to digest every defeat.

The Pink Un: Ken Aboh and Finley Welch weren’t handed opportunities in the latter stage of the Championship season.Ken Aboh and Finley Welch weren’t handed opportunities in the latter stage of the Championship season. (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

The biggest issue I have with this player first development mentality, is that the framework behind this strategy is inadequate. The varying levels of intent and tactical ideas is absolutely stark between the U18s and U21s age groups. For multiple seasons, there’s been a lack of continuity between those two sides.

The U18s play in a heavily conservative manner, playing an inverted 4-4-2 shape which enables the team to play in two blocks of four, as well as minimising the distance between the back four and midfield four. They then look to play on the counter attack, and get the ball into the target men. As the season has developed, the U18s have sought to play very direct - avoiding playing out from the back - going long from goal kicks. 

The big issue with this mindset, is although they’ve won more games with this approach, the alignment between the U21s team and the first team is extremely limited. The more important downside however, is the lack of continued activity that the attackers get to perform - especially during the first of the season.

There have been countless examples of the attacking players being heavily isolated, due to the team failing to gain sustained spells of possession. It’s difficult for the attacking players to show their qualities on a consistent basis, when the only attacking idea is to play on the counter attack, or from a direct ball. It also doesn’t allow them to develop a variation to their game. 

The Pink Un: David Wagner did appear reluctant to hand opportunities to young players during his tenure as Norwich City head coach. David Wagner did appear reluctant to hand opportunities to young players during his tenure as Norwich City head coach. (Image: Focus Images Ltd)

This is completely different to the U21s side, as the development team are incredibly brave in and out of possession, wanting to play through the thirds, and press from the front. 

It’s absolutely integral that Weaver’s replacement is able to implement a corresponding style of play that aligns with the brief of the new manager. This will create an easier transition period for the players coming through the ranks. The new head of football development must ensure that each position on the pitch gets equal priority, as at U18s level specifically, the attacking development of the team was extremely limited. 

Whatever the strategies and ideas of Weaver’s successor, he must have a presence that connects Knapper and the new first team head coach together, as alignment of beliefs is so important. Not only does the new development head have to get the key figures on side, he has to present his brief to the academy staff - taking them on a journey to assist the players in the best formula - building proactive frameworks which promotes the development of the youth in the best manner possible.