Michael Bailey: Honesty and opportunity won’t cut it on their own following Norwich City AGM

Sporting director Stuart Webber sampled his first Norwich City annual general meeting on Wednesday n

Sporting director Stuart Webber sampled his first Norwich City annual general meeting on Wednesday night - and it laid bear exactly what the club could be faced with over the coming 12 months. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent and PinkUn Show host Michael Bailey discusses the ripples left by the Canaries’ 2017 annual general meeting…

For the second year running, there was a fresh face at the top table wondering what on earth the Norwich City board let itself in for every 12 months.

In 2016 it was recently installed chief executive Jez Moxey, left to look around and compare the Canaries’ annual general meeting to what he used to see at Wolves – effectively him and 100pc owner Steve Morgan spending 15 minutes tying up a few loose ends.

Moxey was so enamoured with the City process he also made an appearance at this year’s AGM, albeit only as a £700,000 verbal footnote in City’s 12 months of mistakes and miscalculations.

And this time around it was sporting director Stuart Webber, who with almost his first opportunity to take the floor made the point City’s long-standing format of an AGM followed by a question and answer session was something he had not witnessed at any of his previous clubs.

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The intensity of the night should never be in question. Covering it involves a barrage of information, opinion and soundbites – alongside the subsequent fans’ reactions, which it seems with each passing year vary hugely between those in the audience and the supporters digesting the news externally on social media.

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While short on any particular energy, the majority of appreciation and approval in the room was a somewhat different beast to the latest digital meltdown, which now seems to attach itself to most Norwich City breaking news stories.

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In truth, Webber set the tone with some searingly honest answers – especially on the frittering away of Premier League revenue in the last few years, that has now left City without anything to show for such riches.

The football chief spelt it out in three stats, albeit no doubt to make the point the Canaries board has slung money at City’s ambitions. Seven of City’s eight most expensive signings took place in the last two years, with an average wage in excess of £20,000 per week. In fact in the 2015-16 season, City’s net spend was greater than those reported by Tottenham, Crystal Palace Aston Villa, Chelsea, Swansea, Southampton and Arsenal.

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For one final time, where has the money gone? City spent it. And they spent it badly.

Finally Webber revealed this summer’s transfer window involved recruits averaging under £10,000 per week in salary – clearly a point he wanted to make, and for me a nod to the size of the challenge promotion was always going to be this season. He went as far as to be the only person on the night I can recall, who defended as unwarranted some of the criticism received by the board.

Not that Webber received reciprocal help. Chairman Ed Balls’ statement “the jury’s out” on the summer changes made by the board and aimed at medium to long-term results seemed unduly harsh on the newly appointed figures – when the rest of the night revolved around discussing the directors’ mistakes, while asking for even more faith and trust from shareholders and season ticket holders alike.

I feel like I’ve written about City’s financial issues for years. With recruitment – rather than money – the key component to football success, the Canaries have struggled with both since Paul Lambert left the club.

Regardless of medium to long-term discussion points, the short-term never goes away – and there is no denying how tough tonight is, at the start of three awkward fixtures that could slay real hopes this term will have a fairytale finish.

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Likewise, City have shown they can surprise us under Daniel Farke – while the return of some bodies missing through injury could yet alter the landscape.

That hope is the immediate, yet what’s surrounding Norwich City Football Club at present feels about much more than that.

Major academy improvements needed, shedding parachute payments and any lingering inflated expectations that come with it, financial challenges that for me rival anything the club has dealt with in its chequered past and impending questions over the need for inward investment.

There is no getting away from a single one of those points in the coming months.

And still, credit where its due. The Norwich City board puts itself up each year to field any questions shareholders are willing to throw at them.

What the City board needs to make sure happens between now and the AGM of 2018 – whether in the meantime we see promotion or the significant ramifications of anything else – is no more fresh faces on the top table. Because if they have got it wrong this time, it’s really hard to see what options would be left for them to take.

• For the latest Norwich City news and opinion follow Michael Bailey on the following channels…

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