Paddy Davitt: 'Little old Norwich' tag is a poor fit
- Credit: PA
When Norwich City shocked planet football with that win over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City the Canaries went viral.
The noise, the passion and the fervour inside Carrow Road that night in September 2019 before, during and after a 3-2 win was as good as any experienced in the modern era.
City were front and back page news around the world. It was the highest peak of that Mount Everest analogy conjured by Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber a few months earlier, when promotion from the Championship was secured against Blackburn.
Little did anyone know then how epic the tumble would be when the world tilted on its axis again and full houses were replaced by sterile stadiums as football paled into insignificance.
In the immediate aftermath of claiming that prized scalp the demand to hear from Webber and Farke and Teemu Pukki and Emi Buendia and the rest of those green and yellow heroes was intense. But City’s sporting director was notable by his absence.
Webber politely declined to give his reaction when approached by this publication. The reason given cuts to the core of what drives him and ultimately Norwich to try and achieve the same and better as long as he remains in Norfolk.
Webber essentially felt the 'shock and awe' at such an achievement was misplaced. Norwich, after all, were in the same league as Manchester City. This was no FA Cup giant-killing.
The Canaries had earned their spot at the top table and were dining on equal terms. At least on the pitch for one glorious 90 minutes, if not off it, given the seismic financial disparities that campaign between Norwich and the rest.
But the principle stands. In Webber’s view the ‘plucky Canaries achieving the impossible' was not the look he wanted.
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Which brings us to the here and now. Norwich will be back in the Premier League next season. All that remains is a little housekeeping at the top of the Championship. The challenge then, led by Webber and Farke, will be to dramatically improve on an abject relegation last time around.
Much has been made of a strategy to position Norwich among the top 26 clubs in the land. That is the sustainable benchmark; it is not a lack of ambition, it is the realism at the heart of this philosophy.
But Webber and Farke will expect much more than they ultimately offered in the Premier League first time around.
So too, one can reasonably suggest, will the majority of City’s fan base. If the investment in youth, the investment in infrastructure and the investment in a set of beliefs and a culture were conceived to grow and keep moving forward then the most visible representation of that will be in Premier League progress.
The building blocks are being put in place.
Farke has spoken about the realisation Norwich's play had to become more nuanced, more balanced, more defensively aware. Webber, in the aftermath of relegation, spoke about the recruitment errors and the need to source more athletic, more powerful footballers. The talent and the technique should be a given.
Norwich’s miserly defensive record has anchored what looks another Championship title triumph.
Olly Skipp might only be on loan from Tottenham but whether it is him or another alternative there will be no regression to the type of 'number 10' Farke labelled Moritz Leitner or Tom Trybull when they were deployed in those deeper lying central midfield roles in those early Premier League skirmishes.
You can already see it in the transfer moves for Ben Gibson and Dimitris Giannoulis.
The Greek arrived in January on a loan deal from PAOK that will become a £6.2m transfer upon confirmation of City’s Premier League status. The attacking left back was acquired for the top flight.
Everything Norwich have done, are doing and will continue to do over the course of the remaining games this season and into the summer transfer window is to raise the bar.
No one should suddenly expect nights like Manchester City to remain anything but events in glorious isolation against the biggest hitters. But Norwich aim to be more robust and better equipped to mix it on a weekly basis with the majority of the Premier League.
Do that and expect the ‘top 26 mantra’ to perhaps be dismissed in the same manner Webber rejected the outpouring of emotion after Farke got the better of his friend Pep.