East, Sleep, Drink Norwich City: Farke knows what we can expect
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It can be a very dangerous thing to be a positive Norwich City fan.
Take last season, for example. As one of the relegated teams we were always going to be one of the favourites to gain promotion, and that level of expectancy seldom does the Canaries any favours, as the resulting season demonstrated. Or after relegation to League One a few years back, when we were paired against Colchester at Carrow Road for the first day of the season – what an easy opening fixture that would be!
Then there is the other end of the scale where, after two solid seasons in the top flight and having spent millions of pounds on Football Manager targets such as Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer in a bid to push on and progress in the Premier League, surely there was no way we’d go down? No, we’ve all learned the hard way not to get carried away, right? The only problem is, whilst the club appears to have learned from our more recent mistakes, it does leave a slightly underwhelming feel to the upcoming 2017-18 campaign.
For me, the trepidation and cautiousness surrounding our team’s chances for the season ahead is perfectly understandable – even the seasons when we do well we seem to start with a poor result. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can remember gaining promotion after kicking off with a defeat to Wolves, or reaching a play-off final despite an opening day 4-0 hammering at Millwall. Consequently, whilst Daniel Farke has my sympathy for having his first competitive match at a Craven Cottage ground where fans have witnessed some inexplicable failures since our last win there over three decades ago, it is more imperative than ever for fans not to overreact to any result this weekend.
When Alex Neil left last season, it was clear the club had deep-rooted problems within the squad that needed to be addressed. Whilst we will never know the extent of those issues, we do know that they were serious enough for our model professional captain to criticise his team-mates (in a far more acceptable way than Darron Gibson recently chose to do at Sunderland), and for the club to seemingly abandon any chance of making the play-offs and focus their sights firmly on the future. We still had a chance of catching the teams ahead of us, but it was almost as if the club as a whole felt that the players we had had taken us as far as they could and needed to be moved on, which is what appears to have happened in the summer.
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There seemed to be a bit of harmony amongst small groups of players, but sadly that number didn’t seem to stretch to all of the 11 on the pitch very often. Even early on in the season, when we somehow managed to climb to the top of the league, most fans appeared confused at the position as we were not playing anywhere near our full capability. For short spells in certain matches, we blitzed teams with quick goals and won points; for the remainder of the season, we were below our best, to put it mildly, and dropped points you simply cannot drop at this level if you want to exit the Championship through the right door.
Ultimately though, our position didn’t lie and the hope now is that Farke, who has had a good, full pre-season to work with the squad, can use his predecessor’s mediocre season of readjustment as a platform to build something solid for the future – and “for the future” certainly seems like an appropriate phrase.
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So, too, does the word “understated”. Whilst some Championship teams have again started to throw crazy money and what are arguably second-rate players, we have quietly plodded on with what is hopefully decent transfer business and have also geared ourselves towards the development of youth players in an apparent attempt to forge a squad that is an actual team, rather than just a group of individuals on high Championship wages.
Okay, I’m sure we can all point to an area of the team where we want additions – I for one do not believe that we have enough firepower up front to last the whole season – but for the first time in a long time, it feels like there is something going on below the radar at our club, rather than something of a publicity stunt designed to make things look better on the surface than they are at the core. Signings like Franke, Zimmermann and Vrancic are gambles purely because they are untested in this country; however, transfers like this did not appear to hold Huddersfield back last season. Like most fans, I have not seen much of our new signings prior to their arrivals here, but that same sentence could also apply some players who have been on the books for a year or two now.
Players such as James Maddison, who is clearly a footballer desperate to play and showcase his undoubted talent, look like they will be given a chance. As indeed, could Harry Toffolo; or in fact any other young player who shows the attitude, application and ability to make it as a professional footballer. I have lost count of the amount of times in the past 12 months or so that I have heard people question the existence of club academies – even an academy like our cup-winning youth squad of a few seasons back. Already there seems to be a belief amongst our young players that they can force their way into Farke’s plans – and rumour has it that belief is something that a number of players sorely lacked under previous regimes. I struggle to see how that can be a bad thing.
It comes down to expectation; and if the expectation was that we would appoint an English manager, who probably isn’t good enough anymore, to keep faith with the same squad that got us promoted (and subsequently relegated) once or twice but don’t quite seem to have the desire to do so again then I for one am happy to prepare myself for something different. This season may not be easy to watch – if Farke does indeed try and blood youth into the squad in the way that many feel he will do then you can guarantee that there will be mistakes; that’s how young players learn. It’s also how managers learn who is really good enough for their plans. But then there should also be a desire and hunger that has been lacking in recent years. As Russell Martin alluded to at times last year, things do appear to have become stale and certain players did not seem to care as much as they should have; I for one welcome any effort to rid my club of players that do not want to be here.
Whilst those such as Ruddy and Howson (amongst others) have given years of their lives for City, I do not begrudge anybody leaving if they don’t want to be here. Many would argue that most of the players who have left have earned their chance to move on and achieve something elsewhere; others will simply be accused of lacking passion for the club. Either way, what Webber, Farke and any others involved in the inner-most thinking of the club appear to be doing is addressing the actual problems they have inherited, rather than burying their heads in the sand and hoping that the promised land of Premier League riches will solve everything, as has been argued in the recent past. The problem with addressing problems such as those experienced by Norwich City in recent years is that we are now looking at utilising a number of young or inexperienced players at this level. We, as fans, now have a duty to stick with them and support them through thick and thin. Since the play-off dinal win against Middlesborough, the atmosphere at Carrow Road has been understandably flat more often than not. Maybe a bit of fresh blood can liven us back up again, because what we have been watching on the pitch has been incredibly tedious at times.
Alan Hansen once said that “you win nothing with kids”. However, I’m more realistic than that. I’m a Norwich fan; I don’t expect most of the players that I’ve seen don the yellow shirt win anything significant. What I do ask for, though, is some passion, commitment and a bit of effort to win football matches. And if, in addition, whichever players step onto the pitch can do also provide us with some entertainment, highlights and even success over the course of the season, then we as fans will find it easier to do everything in our power to pick those same players up if they make goal-costing mistakes, miss the odd clear-cut chance or get sent off for the occasional stupid tackle. More than ever, our club needs to be as one. It may not even be in an effort to gain promotion; that could possibly be too soon for this season. But if the players can just make Carrow Road a much more pleasant environment to spend our Saturday afternoons, that would be an acceptable start.
Besides, at least we don’t support a team that lost 6-1 to a team in the league below in pre-season. Now that would be a real cause for concern…