Lee Payne: Relegation is no longer a foregone conclusion for City

Norwich Head Coach Dean Smith during the Premier League match at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London

Dean Smith has already made an impact in his short time in the Norwich City dugout. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

As sad as I was to see Daniel Farke lose his job, I can’t argue with the decision.  

Norwich City were only going one way and the arrival of Dean Smith and Craig Shakespeare brought fresh ideas to the squad and fresh hope to the fans. 

Farke was City’s first ‘head coach’ - the first person to take charge of the team as part of the new model of working with a sporting director. That sporting director is, of course, Stuart Webber, and I would argue that his role is more crucial than the one that Smith has just filled. 

It is down to the sporting director to hire and fire head coaches and pursue transfers, surely the most important decisions a football club has to make. Farke may well have expressed a desire to bring Josh Sargent to Norwich from Werder Bremen in the summer, but it would have been Webber who finalised the deal and decided how much of the club’s money should go towards making that move happen. It would also have been Webber who made the call to relieve Farke of his duties ahead of the game at Brentford last month. 

Stuart Webber, sporting director, at the annual general meeting at Carrow Road in Norwich. Picture:

Sporting director Stuart Webber is on a 12-month rolling contract at Carrow Road - Credit: Danielle Booden

The Welshman gets his fair share of stick (usually from people who don’t understand how money works) but I am sure he would say that it comes with the territory in such a high-profile job.  

I like him, and I’m glad that he’s at my club. I admire the way he knows his own mind, knows exactly what he wants and is prepared to go above and beyond to get it. 

Some City fans won’t like this, but getting Dean Smith to come to us was a bit of a coup. He has experience of keeping a team in the Premier League, unlike most recent Norwich bosses, and on the day Farke left he was quite content managing his boyhood club. Aston Villa decided that, despite some important players being out injured, five consecutive defeats necessitated a change and Webber sensed an opportunity. He said it himself at the press conference – he phoned Smith’s agent, expecting him to say that he wanted a break after three intense years, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. 

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The impact of that decision on the pitch was immediate. City now look much harder to beat, far more organised and far more adaptable to a tactical change on the fly. I no longer feel that relegation is a foregone conclusion and that is a big improvement. 

At Norwich’s recent Annual General Meeting it was revealed that Webber was going to stay at the club on a rolling 12-month contract. I am pleased about this, though I am certain that had Farke still been here and we were safely in mid table Webber would be on his way, content that he could hand over to his successor a club with a bright future. 

What is becoming increasingly clear is the identity of that successor. In September, Neil Adams was given the job of assistant sporting director. Adams is a fan favourite thanks to his long association with Norwich, taking in a playing spell in the midfield, several years commentating on matches for the radio, FA Youth Cup success in charge of the Under 18s, a brief spell as first team manager and then most recently overseeing the club’s loan dealings. 

Adams played a prominent role in the hiring of Smith and Shakespeare, meeting with the pair alongside Webber and being a visible presence in the video the club released of their first day at work. The transition from Webber to Adams will be an important time for Norwich City and, I would argue, a bigger deal than the change from Farke to Smith. The fact they are preparing for it to happen already is, in my opinion, another example of our club doing things correctly.