It’s not how much you spend – but how well
There is a school of thought that high-spending Middlesbrough’s current status near to the bottom of the table and City’s victory against them on Saturday was indicative of the fact that money can’t buy success.
That in some way this was a victory for the pauper over the prince.
Granted, Boro have spent several millions during the past two years buying up half of the Scottish Premier League, only to see the policy having little impact on results.
But Norwich’s own spending over the same period has not been insignificant as the club have risen from the doldrums.
It is perhaps more true, therefore, that money can’t guarantee you success. It all depends on how you spend it. And that’s really where the Canaries differ vastly from our opponents last Saturday: Norwich have spent wisely over the past 18 months; Middlesbrough have not.
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And of course we largely have Paul Lambert to thank for that.
Since making the move to Carrow Road in August last year, Lambert has dipped into the transfer market 15 times – to make 11 permanent signings and four loan deals.
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The “undisclosed” nature of many transfers these days means we don’t know exactly what has been paid out in all of them but it seems pretty certain that we didn’t pay a pittance for Andrew Surman and Simeon Jackson.
Of those 15, nine started on Saturday, all of whom have played enough of a part so far this season to be able to take credit for our current lofty position.
And while it is too early to make a final conclusion on the eventual success, or otherwise, of all of Lambert’s signings, it is fair to say the majority either served their purpose (a la Fraser Forster) or look to be decent acquisitions.
It is interesting to note that Lambert’s main transfer techniques appear to be to make loan signings only to plug an immediate gap (not to build the team around) and more often than not sign players looking to step up, rather than down.
Of his 11 permanent signings, Russell Martin, Anthony McNamee, Oli Johnson, Zak Whitbread, Andrew Crofts, David Fox and Simeon Jackson have all come from smaller clubs than Norwich.
Perhaps Lambert believes that not only is it possible to get better value for your pound this way, but also that players moving up come with a bit more desire and passion.
Maybe by coming from a smaller club it makes them fully appreciate what they have got at Carrow Road.
In comparison former Boro boss Gordon Strachan, who took up his role just two months after Lambert at City, made five more signings than his counterpart, ten of them permanent and eight on loan. And while I don’t pretend to have much knowledge of each signing’s individual success, the table (both this and last season) doesn’t lie.
Strachan’s own transfer tactic was to bring players from the top division in Scotland, presumably with the belief they could transfer success north of the border into the same thing south of it.
It didn’t work and now Strachan finds himself out of a job and Middlesbrough potentially find themselves with a squad full of expensive flops who the new manager possibly doesn’t fancy.
And just down the A140 at Ipswich Roy Keane’s transfer policy is also very different from Lambert’s.
In a season and a bit he has made a staggering 23 signings, 13 permanent and ten on loan.
His is a policy that also appears two-fold – use the loan market extensively (where have we heard that one before?) or otherwise mainly sign players who are no longer wanted by their respective Premier League clubs.
It’s a risky and potentially very expensive gamble if those players whom he presumably feels still have potential, prove otherwise.
And judging by the pressure on Keane and his under-performing team for the past two seasons it can hardly be deemed a success.
What both examples highlight is just how wisely Lambert is spending what there is of Norwich City’s cash. While not all of his signings have yet proved to be worth the money spent on them, he has an impressively high success rate, as the form of Forster, Ward, Crofts, Jackson and others has shown. Each and every one of his moves so far appears to have been carefully considered with a real desire to add something to the squad that it otherwise doesn’t have.
And while fans have grown used to being told there is little money left in the transfer kitty, with resources starting to look a bit strained the gaffer’s shrewdness in the transfer and loan market is likely to be something that is called upon yet again before this season is out.
• FIVE OF THE REST
1. I often wonder how much of our slightly indifferent home form but strong away form is down to fan power. Last Tuesday against Crystal Palace was a perfect case in point. We go 2-1 down and what do the fans do? Pretty much nothing until some decide to boo at the end of the game. Away from home it just wouldn’t happen, the fans would be chanting and singing until the game was completely out of sight. For whatever reason there appears to be more camaradarie and backing from our away followers and is that now having an impact on the pitch?
2. Traditionally Middlesbrough have never been the most watchable of teams, preferring football of a more direct nature, so it was a surprise to see them pass it around so much on Saturday. What both teams lacked though was a creative spark and the tally from both teams of two shots on goal highlights that. While I totally agree with the decision to rest Wes Hoolahan, it did feel that the game missed him.
3. So what did we learn from Cardiff’s demolition of Leeds on Monday night? Two things I reckon. First that they have a pretty awesome strike force, and the amount of chances created by Craig Bellamy, Michael Chopra et al was frankly scary. Second – striker Jay Bothroyd has lost none of his ‘charm’. Those of you who remember his sending off for Blackburn against Norwich a few years ago will know what I mean.
4. Leon Barnett is right, November is going to be a tough month and if we can come through it still in the top six, every fan should be forgiven for starting to dream about a promotion push. But the hardest of the season? Fraid not Leon. Take a look at April. A staggering seven games in 29 days, compared to five in November, and that includes away trips to Ipswich and Swansea and visits from Forest and Derby.
5. I can highly recommend a read of “Why England Lose”, which attempts to reveal certain truths about the game. One of its findings, using data between 1998 and 2007 is that there is a direct correlation between a club’s league position and wage bill. In other words, in the majority of cases, the more money spent on wages (not transfer fees, interestingly) the higher the club finishes. Of the 58 teams in the top two divisions during this period Norwich’s average wage spend was the 35th highest, but average league position was 29th. According to the book we have been, and indeed still are, batting well above our average, a point made by David McNally at the fans forum on Tuesday night.