Paddy Davitt: The genius and the genesis of Norwich City’s remarkable Premier League rise
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It would be easy to portray the sale of James Maddison as a watershed moment in Norwich City’s brave new world. But it was a continuation of a theme.
The Canaries' assault on the Premier League may inadvertently have never happened if Maddison had remained at Carrow Road last summer; if a knee ligament injury in an instantly forgettable final day Championship mauling at Sheffield Wednesday scuppered a dream move.
Only in recent times, since an improbable passage to the Premier League was sealed, have those on the inside shaping this stratospheric trajectory spoken in depth about the anxiety they felt watching the stricken Maddison hobble off at Hillsborough.
Stuart Webber suggested it would have been a 'disaster' if the club were denied the Maddison millions, to plug a gaping hole left by the end of parachute payments from the last failed tilt at top flight longevity.
Had it been months and not weeks before a return to fitness then the England hopeful would have stayed and others would have been sold in his place.
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Maddison's personal numbers of goals and assists stood out because the rest of Farke's collective in his debut season were unable to attain anywhere near the same levels of productivity.
That regeneration, that blossoming of Marco Stiepermann in the spaces vacated by Maddison would have been seriously jeopardised. No exit for Maddison would have meant no arrival of Moritz Leitner on a permanent basis; a player intrinsic to Farke's style of play and City's upward mobility before injury intervened midway through the most recent campaign.
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Former chairman and passionate fan, Ed Balls, outlined the view from the boardroom at this critical juncture, following the Maddison injury, after promotion was secured against Blackburn.
"When Stuart emerged from the dressing room at half-time he told us it could be far worse than we thought, that Maddison had a knee problem and that it would be several days before we knew how bad it was," he said, in an opinion piece published in The Times.
"We had an away day at which the board and coaches debated what we could do if we could not sell him.
"The plans that have led to this season's success were up in the air. We were biting our nails for several days but after a week we thankfully got the news that he did not need an operation."
Webber himself re-told the same anecdote in his now customary forthright manner. The fragility of this nascent project, that flowered and flourished over the past nine months, was clearly on the line.
"Listen, that would have been a disaster. No other way of dressing that up," he said, speaking at Colney before the title-clinching win over Aston Villa. "I remember going down at half-time (at Hillsborough) and speaking to the physios and you get that look of, 'This isn't going to be good news' before you even start to speak.
"Then the next two or three days were nervous until he had his scan and it wasn't as bad as first thought.
"That Sunday night was not good. We were being slagged off for getting beat five at Sheffield Wednesday and we didn't know how long James would be out for.
"The transfer hadn't been agreed. We had not even spoken to a club but if he had been out for nine months or whatever then the deal would not have happened.
"We would probably have had to sell more players to cover off the gap of him staying here."
Given Webber's track record, both at Norwich and before that Huddersfield, you would still not have bet against him pulling that trick off.
The man identified by former chief executive, Steve Stone, to revive City's fortunes and shape a new philosophical approach has repaid such faith in the same multiples as the club's original mark up on Maddison.
Webber has spoken on numerous occasions of his desire to work abroad in the future. There was a link to Southampton earlier this season.
Another Premier League club went further, since he moved to Norwich in 2017, but Webber rejected the opportunity.
They are unlikely to be the last club who covet his services.
Delia Smith labelled him a 'genius' last week. The man he hand picked to fashion this vision, Daniel Farke, also added his considerable weight to the view Webber is destined for bigger things.
Farke was the only coach on a three person shortlist City's board had not heard of to replace Alex Neil. But he was always Webber's first choice.
Their relationship was forged much further back, when Webber was still in situ at Huddersfield and succession planning in the event David Wagner, another from the Borussia Dortmund talent factory, was enticed away from the Terriers before completing his own English top flight mission.
Thankfully for Norwich, those planets aligned in Norfolk.
But what unfolded here is not some copycat cut and paste.
"They are lazy comparisons," said Webber. "Doing it a second time can be more challenging. The difficult part was probably bringing another coach from Borussia Dortmund.
"I knew coming here and trying the same thing I would get hammered for copying the same approach. But when you believe that philosophy you stick to it."
Bravery. Just like jettisoning a tranche of experienced players, headlined by John Ruddy, within months of arriving.
City by then were moving in a radically different direction; partly out of financial necessity, partly to reinvigorate the playing staff. Farke retained the likes of Russell Martin and Wes Hoolahan but when they had served their usefulness they also departed.
Not perhaps on Martin's terms, although the ex-captain got the long overdue send off he so richly deserved on Bank Holiday Monday in a Carrow Road celebration game.
That was brave from Farke. But also ruthless. To achieve what he has done, in step with Webber, would not have been possible with any sentimental attachment to the past.
That boldness and bravery is stamped right through their work. It is what binds this critical relationship at the heart of this Norwich revival.
And why the Premier League should not under-estimate the Canaries.