If only City could get it right

DAVID CUFFLEY Norwich City are a club of “ifs” - the words of one shareholder at Thursday's annual meeting at Carrow Road. We all knew what he meant. For the last three seasons, and the start of this one, we've all been tormented by thoughts of if only this, if only that .


Norwich City are a club of “ifs” - the words of one shareholder at Thursday's annual meeting at Carrow Road.

We all knew what he meant. For the last three seasons, and the start of this one, we've all been tormented by thoughts of if only this, if only that . . . far more ifs than the 13 Rudyard Kipling managed to cram into his famous poem.

If only City hadn't let that 3-1 lead slip at Crystal Palace in the Premiership season. If only there hadn't been so many poor signings in the summer of 2005. If only Robert Earnshaw hadn't had that extra practice shot on the training ground at Colney last January. If only Jimmy Smith and Mark Fotheringham hadn't been injured at the start of the season - funny how your missing players are always your best when you're struggling.

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There is always the sense that things need not have been as bad as this if only . . . but it is no use crying over spilt milk. The fact is the Canaries are in their biggest hole since the one former manager Bryan Hamilton left them in nearly seven years ago, if not bigger.

Finding the right manager to help dig them out of it is the immediate task facing the board.

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Chief executive Neil Doncaster said in his EDP column this week: “It is easy to forget, with all the gloom surrounding the start to the season, that the Norwich City job is, in the words of one of the candidates, 'one of the top 25 football jobs in the country'.”

Alas, the team is currently a long way short of being one of the best 25 in the country, and a million miles away from the top 20, and sorting that out is what actually matters to the 20,000-plus paying customers at Carrow Road every home game.

City chairman Roger Munby revealed at Thursday's meeting that there had been “more than 50” applications for the job, including “former international players, current international managers, Premiership managers, experienced Championship managers and up-and-coming managers cutting a dash in the early stages of their careers.”

He said: “This also says very positive things about national perceptions of Norwich City Football Club and the efforts of your board, in building on previous high points, to preserve and enhance our national reputation over the past 11 years.”

He added: “Virtually every applicant for the job quotes big crowds, great stadium, top training facilities, solid finances, a supportive board and an excellent national reputation, as key and compelling reasons for wanting our job.”

I'm sure that's true but if you're looking for a job, you're hardly likely to rubbish your prospective employers: “Well, actually, you're third from bottom of the Championship, you haven't scored for six matches, your crowds are starting to drop, you're £17m in debt . . . and, oh, I don't think much of your current squad of players.”

Not likely to win too many votes, is it? But perhaps that is what City need.

Much better for someone to come in and pinpoint what's wrong and how he is going to put it right than to flatter the directors with talk of what a great club they have helped to mould. One suspects that, more than once in recent years, the City board has been susceptible to a bit of flattery.

The recruitment process also raises a few questions. Nobody wants City to make a rushed appointment and get it wrong - if they have to wait a week or two to find the man they really want, so be it. But are there too many people involved in picking the new manager?

Last season we were told a team of nine, including all six directors, was involved in the interviews for Nigel Worthington's replacement before Peter Grant emerged as what Delia Smith revealed was “the number one on the list of all interviewers”, a remarkable coincidence and, perhaps, an unfortunate admission in hindsight.

This time, Doncaster has revealed not only that former manager Dave Stringer will again be involved in the recruitment process but that the club would also be taking other “outside” advice.

“We will take on board views from senior figures within the game who have a perspective on matters Norwich City altogether different from that within Norfolk,” he said.

This conjures up visions of a Bobby Robson, Craig Brown or Jimmy Armfield figure dispensing advice in the background - Armfield was once reported to have helped a previous City board sift through candidates for the manager's job.

Is this process too top-heavy? Will City be hiring Tom Pearce's grey mare to round up the interview panel? It's an unfortunate analogy when we talk about Norwich City, but there is that old phrase about too many cooks spoiling the broth.

No one wants to return to what was perceived as a dictatorship under former chairman Robert Chase but while we have a much more supporter-friendly administration at Carrow Road and a level of support that seemed inconceivable 10 years ago, the current board does not have a good track record in picking managers.

Out of five managers appointed in the last 11 years, only Worthington has been a success - at least for the first three and a half years - and he virtually had to wrench the job out of the board's hands.

As they sift through the pile of CVs and canvass opinion from who knows where, they must know they can't afford to get it wrong again.

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