Paddy Davitt: Would missing out on promotion be a failure for Norwich City?
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
The players have to remember they are paid a lot of money to play football and all you ask is they try their best.
The words of Norwich City’s sporting director, Stuart Webber, prior to a ball being kicked on the Canaries’ Championship campaign.
Implicit in that sound bite is the cultural leap the club’s top brass opted to embark upon - with Webber as chief architect.
Daniel Farke is his man.
Recruited from Borussia Dortmund to signal a new direction at the apex of a restructure that has swept away many of the old guard.
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A philosophical challenge to the dusty hierarchies and well-entrenched fault lines running through many British football clubs.
The all-encompassing, old style football manager who controlled everything from the academy to signing multi-million pound players is a thing of the past at Carrow Road.
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Financial pressures and a shrinking income may have helped frame this thirst for change in Norfolk, but given the stodgy, end-of-an-era feel presided over by Alex Neil it was a demand echoed on the terraces.
Supporters had largely tired of the tried and trusted, the same infuriating errors and inflexibility. Too many players past their prime.
The current downturn in results has dimmed some of the soaring optimism from that long unbeaten, record-breaking run of results, but there is no dispute City have embarked on a bold path.
There can be no turning back now.
Farke has made mistakes in the opening months of the season. So too his players, but in the best moments passions have been stirred and a stronger connection forged with a fan base that had been lost in recent times.
The thinning of the squad - partly through financial necessity and partly to inject greater competition - is exposing a bareness in resource when injury bites.
Cameron Jerome is not helping himself in front of goal but his heavy workload should not be dismissed lightly, in the periodic absence of Nelson Oliveira or Marley Watkins for blocks of games.
Predicting Norwich’s Championship prospects is still guesswork.
In the prolonged upturn that eased them into the top six for a fleeting week or two Farke’s squad looked capable of mixing it with potential promotion rivals. When they toil, like at Millwall or Aston Villa or Bolton on the road or Wolves at home such optimism is laughably misplaced.
If the benchmark is promotion, Norwich may come up short this season.
But Webber and Farke are putting building blocks in place. Failure, if that is how you measure it, will not be through a lack of spirit or endeavour or, as Farke is often at pains to remind his players, a responsibility to play for the name on the front of the shirt rather the back.
“What we are working on is a bit of humility and respect and a work ethic,” to quote Webber again, speaking after plotting a hectic summer turnover in personnel.
“If that means we don’t get a result, then so be it, we can walk off a pitch knowing we have given everything, but we lost.
“Maybe the opposition were just better, the referee made a bad decision, whatever.
“What Daniel has shown in a short time is he can read the league and understand it.
“He is humble and respectful towards his players and the league and opponents.
“You see that every day. He is no different to any of us at the club. We will make mistakes and it is how you react to it and how we grow and stick together in those times.
“We live in a world where everything is analysed. It is either very high or very low.
“You only have to look at how Daniel handles himself in the media. He never shirks a question. He answers as honestly as he can and as a club we are doing that better.
“We still have steps to make. We are implementing a culture of hard work.”
City’s sporting director is right. This is a process, a journey, and no-one, not Webber or Farke or any Norwich City supporter, can predict the final outcome with any degree of certainty.
But the will is there to improve and to grow, to try and bridge the financial gap by giving younger talent a platform.
Or tapping a cost-effective German transfer market that for the most part has been overlooked in this country.
There have been enough tangible signs of progress.
It may be uneven. It may have been rationed at Carrow Road - compared with results on Norwich’s travels - but perspective and realism must remain the watchwords from this point.
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