Cory Varney: Farke’s rocky road - The definitive Norwich City story
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It was the calculated gamble that led all the way to the Premier League. But it was far from plain sailing for the club’s first overseas managerial appointment. City fan and writer Cory Varney charts the arrival of Mr Farke.
“I stand for football, and hopefully beautiful football.” That was Daniel Farke’s mantra, stood in the May sunshine at Carrow Road as the ink dried on his City contract.
The 40-year-old joins the Canaries from Borussia Dortmund II after making a name for himself leading SV Lippstadt 08. A disciple of possession football, Farke sets out his stall early. He wants his team to dominate, to be brave, to be attacking and always want the ball. He promises a style that will fit Norwich.
“I want in future, when you watch Norwich, to see a clear sign of who we are, you see what the club want, what the idea is and what the football should be. I want to create that.”
The German had plenty of options on the table. Norwich was not the only one. It was, however, the ‘right one’.
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“I believe there is much potential in the club and the city and I try to help fulfil all the hopes and dreams to create this time of change.”
Sporting director Stuart Webber lands Chris Badlan and Kieran Scott to lead the European and domestic scouting departments, both former colleagues from his time at Wolves.
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A busy summer now begins.
“Maybe it needed a season like this to reassess and see where it needs to go and what it stands for, what it is about,” reflects Russell Martin, who will soon sign a new deal. “You can’t have infinite success or bounce up and down. It is not nice or enjoyable, but we need to go back to having fun and create a Norwich team the fans want to see.”
The Norwich captain talks up the way Farke wants to play his football, stressing that any new recruits will be ‘hungry’.
By now, there have been three of them added to the playing roster.
Marley Watkins, an attacker from Barnsley, Angus Gunn – a goalkeeper like his dad, City legend, Bryan – on loan from Manchester City, and Mario Vrancic, a midfielder from Darmstadt. Farke’s Borussia Dortmund II captain, Christoph Zimmermann, soon becomes the fourth arrival.
Off the pitch, Farke’s backroom team also takes shape.
Eddie Riemer, Chris Domogalla and Christian Flüthmann follow him from Germany. Alan Irvine leaves after a spell as caretaker manager, as do Frankie McAvoy and keeper coach Dean Kiely.
Experienced players leave. Graham Dorrans to Rangers. Jonny Howson to Middlesbrough.
One bright starlet signs on, as James Maddison gets a new contract – “I’m really looking forward to working with him and we will try to develop him a little bit more,” says Farke – while another leaves, as Jacob Murphy heads to Newcastle.
Harrison Reed (Southampton), James Husband (Middlesbrough) and Marcel Franke (Greuther Fürth) continue the summer incomings.
Key players Alex Pritchard and Timm Klose get injured during a pre-season friendly at Cambridge.
July becomes August and there is another new arrival, midfielder Tom Trybull, following a trial. Jamal Lewis gets a new deal, and Webber hails Farke as the best coach in the Championship.
“I truly believe that,” he insists. “Seeing how he has worked at Dortmund and with the guys here for six weeks. Whether that is enough, or the players are good enough, we will find out soon enough, but the level of detail, his manner with the players and developing the culture we want, of hard work and respect, is impressive.”
It’s then Farke’s turn to set the scene on the eve of the season.
It’s unrealistic to assume things will happen straightaway. Experienced departures, widespread change and injury woes make a promotion bid unlikely but, he makes sure to point out, not impossible.
“We don’t play football just to reach realistic goals. Sometimes you want to do something unrealistic and extraordinary and special. It is football, a game. We need a great togetherness to help each other. We have a pretty young team, there will be mistakes and we need that support. There will be problems and setbacks, but we need that atmosphere in difficult times inside the club and especially the relationship with our fans. If we stand together and face whatever happens then we have chances to do some unrealistic things.”
The opening day brings about one thing. ‘The Nelson thing’.
Farke’s first competitive Norwich game unfolds at Craven Cottage and with the clock rapidly ticking towards 90, two of his substitutes combine. Wes Hoolahan finds Oliveira who finds the net in front of the travelling Norwich fans.
What should be a fantastic moment, becomes flat out bizarre.
Rather than celebrate, Oliveira whips off his shirt and charges to the dugout, making sure Farke can see the name and number on the back. Farke downplays it as passion. At first.
The versatile Marco Stiepermann becomes the latest addition, joining from VfL Bochum, before Farke must field questions on Oliveira before a League Cup tie against Swindon.
He talks about loving the name on the shirt – the one on the front, not the back. He’s focused on making sure ‘all the guys’ are concentrated on working for the club, rather than themselves.
Oliveira’s missing as Norwich beat Swindon 3-2. Will he return for Sunderland?
Farke admits he was not content with Oliveira’s reaction. Frustrated at not playing? That’s fine. Reacting like he did? That’s not. He then reaffirms how it is a ‘great honour to work for Norwich City’. The club is bigger than all.
It should never have to fall to its knees and kiss the feet of any player, any member of staff or head coach. They are all here to work for the best supporters in the Championship. Everyone at Norwich should carry that with them each and every day.
“I am not here to win the Nobel Peace prize. I am here to bring a certain working style, attitude and hopefully success. You only have success when you work with a special attitude and style. I would rather do without quality and big names to have this.”
Oliveira is absent again as Norwich lose 3-1 to Sunderland.
When Oliveira does return, he scores – keeping his shirt on – in a 2-0 win over QPR.
Belief rises. Disconnect fades.
But then Norwich lose 4-2 to Aston Villa and get thumped 4-0 against Millwall. They sit in the relegation zone after five games played, having lost three of them and shipped 12 goals in that time.
Farke’s ashamed. The players are embarrassed.
Grant Hanley becomes the final summer arrival at Carrow Road but after the international break it’s another centre back making an impact. Timm Klose returns as Norwich beat Birmingham 1-0 at Carrow Road.
“I want to bring this club back up to the Premier League,” declares Klose. “I know it will be hard because we made a lot of changes – in the team, in the squad and also in the background. So, we will struggle sometimes, but I want to be a leader this season. I want to show everyone they can lean on me, look at me when there are tough times – and that’s down to me to work, fight and show heart on the pitch.”
Norwich take four points from their next two games, drawing 0-0 at home to Burton before arriving late, much to Chris Wilder’s disdain, as they defeat his Sheffield United 1-0.
Steve Weaver follows Webber from Huddersfield to become Norwich’s new academy manager, as the sporting director’s work continues.
Farke calls for a big atmosphere as Norwich get set to take on Bristol City in their ‘living room’.
He also talks about forging a spirit among the squad.
“You have to focus all the guys on one target and although there is competition between different players for minutes sometimes, as a head coach, you concentrate a little bit too much on the tactical details,” he explains. “It is so important to work on that atmosphere and togetherness within the group.”
Norwich draw 0-0 but beat Middlesbrough 1-0 away, courtesy of a spectacular Maddison winner.
As Farke gathers the team for a huddle at full-time, there’s a sense something may be starting to happen at Norwich.
He urges the squad to hold onto the ‘great feeling’ flowing through their veins and use it to dig in during difficult games ahead. They win again, beating Reading 2-1. Norwich were in the relegation zone just a month ago. Now, they are only two points from the play-offs.
“This is the Championship,” reflects Webber. “You play a lot of games, you win, you lose. The key is, can you see us going in the right direction?”
A lot of seeds have been sown. Now it’s time to grow them further on what still promises to be a long, bumpy road ahead.
Norwich return from the international break to snatch a draw against Hull in the final seconds, with Oliveira the hero, before it’s then time for the first East Anglian derby of the season.
Maddison scores. Norwich beat Ipswich. They climb into the play-off positions.
And next up, a trip to Arsenal awaits in the next round of the League Cup.
The Guardian quiz Farke as to whether or not his footballing philosophy is too idealistic to succeed in the rough and tumble of the Championship.
“People say the same thing in Germany: the second league is a fighting league, it’s not so much about philosophy, it’s about winning headers and duels and getting the second balls,” he contends. “Yes, you have to do all those things.
“But when everyone does them, there must also be a difference between teams. Our quality on the ball should be the difference.
“That’s what I try to implement. If you are always hunting and chasing, you get exhausted. The idea is to exhaust opponents, not yourselves. And I believe in this even more here because you have a higher workload and no winter break.”
Farke repeats his pre-season rhetoric when the topic of promotion comes up.
But then, he adds, he never became a coach to fulfil realistic expectations otherwise, why wouldn’t he have just worked in economics?
“I work every day to try to do something special.”
And at the Emirates, against Arsenal, up against Arsene Wenger, Farke and his City team so nearly do ‘something special’.
It’s heartbreak, extra-time heartbreak, for City and their monster away following; after Josh Murphy gives them a first-half lead, Arsenal youngster Eddie Nketiah pops up to equalise in the 85th minute. He scores again in the 96th in the first period of extra-time.
He becomes the story, rather than a Norwich City upset, though Farke pulls his troops in for another full-time huddle and later points out just how close they were to reaching something extraordinary.
“When you don’t get what you deserve immediately, you just have to keep working, and in the end, we will get our benefits. That is what I told the lads. With this togetherness and attitude, we will be able to celebrate.”
Cory tweets about Norwich City on @iwritethings23 and @coryvwriter for business. He has also written a short film which explores mental health which you can support through the crowdfunding site for ‘I Love You Guys’