Ed Balls details decision to change Norwich City structure

City's sporting director Stuart Webber, chairman Ed Balls and joint majority shareholder Delia Smith

Ed Balls has been reflecting on his spell as Norwich City chairman, including Alex Neil's sacking and the decision to hire Stuart Webber. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Former Norwich City chairman Ed Balls has revealed that the Canaries board wanted to implement the restructure that saw them move to a sporting director model immediately after relegation, but keeping Alex Neil scuppered those plans. 

Instead, City appointed Jez Moxey as chief executive and put their trust in Neil as the man to revive their fortunes and return to the Premier League. Moxey departed later that season with the Scot following soon after. 

Balls was credited with playing an influential role in convincing City's top-brass to make the changes after extensive conversations with former Liverpool sporting Damien Comolli, and the former shadow chancellor of the exchequer has detailed the difficulties of managing the Canaries relegation from the top-flight back in 2016.

"David (McNally) had planned to keep us in the Premier League, there was no plan B. I was speaking to people in the days after David had moved on, Steve Stone, Delia and Michael and asking whether this was the time to change the structure on the footballing side. 

"We knew there were problems in terms of how the recruitment was being managed and the engagement of the academy but the reality is it's very hard to do that when you have an existing manager in place. Alex (Neil) was the manager and it's very hard for the manager to bring in a sporting director. 

Norwich Manager Alex Neil looks dejected at the end of the Sky Bet Championship match at Oakwell, Ba

Alex Neil's departure was the catalyst for change at Norwich City.

"After some conversations with Damien Comolli, we discussed as a board whether we would have a review of the arrangements on the footballing side - but that wasn't something that Alex was at all keen on. If you have someone like Alex, then you need to have a strong financial chief to work with them in partnership like Alex had done.

"So although we wanted to move to the sporting director model, that simply wasn't viable, Alex wouldn't go for it."

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Neil's refusal to work with a sporting director saw Balls lead a recruitment charge for David McNally's replacement after his shock resignation earlier that season. Moxey's experience at Wolves saw him headhunted as the man to succeed McNally, an appointment that the ex-chair admits was wrong. 

Moxey's relationship with the majority shareholders, supporters and board became strained and he left Carrow Road just six months after his appointment. 

Results on the pitch still weren't of the standard supporters expected. Despite relegation from Premier League, Balls reveals why the club decided to support Neil rather than opt for a new direction.

"If it was Watford, he would have been sacked," Balls told the Along Come Norwich Podcast. "The supporters backed him, Delia and Michael strongly supported him and the board backed him. He was a young manager, he'd taken us up and nobody felt that he was done. 

"Alex had to manage, without David, all the player relationships which often become contractual. The things that are now split between Stuart and Daniel (Farke) were largely all falling to Alex. I and Steve Stone tried to bring in people to support him. It was a very tough time. In which it would have been difficult to bring somebody in who would have been his new footballing boss.

"Instead, what we considered doing was bringing in somebody from the outside to do a piece of work for us over a month to look at how the football side was run but Alex didn't want to do that either. 

Norwich City chairman Ed Balls and managing director delivered the stark reality regarding the club'

Balls was a key figure in the decision to hire Webber and Farke. - Credit: Nick Butcher

"What you've seen since the change and Daniel and Stuart came in, is that football side is now planning with a long-term focus."

Balls' conversations with Comolli convinced him and the board that a change of structure was required. Something the former Labour politician wanted to see introduced a year earlier. 

That led to the appointment of Webber, the club's first ever sporting director. Explaining why the club decided to appoint the Welshman, Balls explains his track record at Huddersfield convinced the Canaries hierarchy that he was the right fit for the club.

"We knew we had to match long-term planning on the financial side with long-term planning on the football side. There was a frustration that the academy hadn't been properly valued in previous regimes. 

"Football has changed a lot from how it was even 10 years ago. These days, Daniel Farke doesn't need to spend his week talking to agents, going on scouting trips or negotiating contracts. He can pass that on. He is working enormous hours on the footballing side, the coaching and the team. 

"He's trying to put all that business-football coaching into one place. The days of Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson have gone. So that was the thinking behind those conversations that summer," Balls explained.

"When we were thinking about who had the modern sophistication in transfers and who has done it at a club like ours, look at Huddersfield's track record and how they brought in players without spending loads of money. We were so pleased when Stuart Webber was willing to talk to us. 

"But four years on, what a great decision he made. Look at the position Huddersfield are in now and then the depth of backing he's had. He was certainly the right person in the Damien Comolli mould and it was the right choice."

- You can listen to the full Along Come Norwich interview with former chairman Ed Balls by clicking the link above

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