Connor Southwell: Mistakes have been made. The next stage is accountability
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There may been an inevitability about Norwich City’s Premier League relegation, but that doesn’t prevent the hurt that some supporters have been left feeling – after all, these are wounds that have been re-opened too many times.
The optimism circulating around Carrow Road last summer was palpable, City’s promotion to the big time ripped up the book of convention and sought to re-invent the wheel. In numerous ways, it felt like a revolution against contemporary football and the wealth that underpins it – it wasn’t just a triumph on the pitch, it was winning an argument off it.
Fast forward a year’s time, and you witness a club once again left licking it’s wounds and staring top-flight rejection in the face again. A vibrant, attacking and exhilarating outfit witnessed last season and in the early months of this campaign has been exchanged for one limping to the finish line, desperately hoping to be put out of its misery.
In the background, a global pandemic continues to circulate amongst the general population, with Carrow Road nothing but empty seats and colourful banners. That soullessness has meant this relegation feels more distanced, but the hurt City fans will feel is all too familiar.
Todd Cantwell’s moment of sombre reflection in the wake of City’s defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion painted a vivid and unwelcome picture. Since the Premier League restart there have been no fans, no joy and no points – but there are reasons to be optimistic amongst the gloom and despair of a record-breaking fifth relegation.
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City’s relegation may been confirmed with a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of West Ham United, but the evidence displays how this was a long time coming. Seven straight defeats, five goals in 2020, 17 games without scoring this season and being bottom of the division since Boxing Day.
Include in that a 5-1 defeat to relegation rivals Aston Villa, a disappointing ‘Project Restart’ and a record of just five wins and you get the whole, hairy picture to the Canaries’ Premier League campaign.
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There have been moments of panache and excellence – that Manchester City win as a glowing example. Todd Cantwell, Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki have been protagonists within an aesthetically pleasing side, but when it comes to the intangibles and guile needed to fight your way out of trouble, City lack them.
Expectations were tempered by the top brass, reality dictates that replicating an additional miracle was always going to be unlikely. But that didn’t stop supporters hoping that this time the top-flight narrative would be different. Nor does it excuse the level of performance witnessed since the resumpton.
The honesty that has emanated out of sporting director Stuart Webber and Farke has made a refreshing change to the media-trained answers supporters have become accustomed to – but after the trauma of a campaign that will see this City side relegated with the lowest points total since three points were introduced, you could have forgiven supporters for wishing to be lied to.
Naturally, there will be comments about finances and the hand Farke and his coaching staff were dealt – but the German never opted to complain, only to attempt to extract the maximum out of those resources at his disposal.
City’s approach to top-flight sustainability has won them numerous plaudits externally. Their attempt to re-invent the wheel admirable – but operating as mere millionaires in a billionaire’s playground constructs a gap of quality, one that has proved too far to bridge.
Webber stated that the top-flight would pose a credible test to the Canaries’ culture, in reality – it has been repeatedly attacked with a level of brutality that could leave it in ruins. When your ideas are getting constantly pricked, then how long does it take for them to burst beyond repair?
Passing judgement on this particular class of Norwich City players will have to wait, no longer will they be free of expectation or able to wear the underdog tag around their neck.
But they have banked a significant amount of money to sustain the club, have nurtured a number of assets and have put some more miles onto the clock of their young squad. Unlike the sides who will suffer the same fate, their self-sustainable model means they’ll be in a strong position to challenge again.
Add the impending parachute payments and the new bricks and mortar at Colney and you find a club in a healthy position. Unlike in other eras, relegation won’t mark the start of an evolution, instead, it will be used to decide who continues to walk on the path less travelled and who opts to depart.
If the Canaries can return to the top-flight at the first attempt, some will point to this relegation as being swallowed for the greater good. It’s the internal damage that could prove fatal – whether that be the loss of confidence or the gaining of a self-conscious streak that prevents Farke’s style from flourishing again.
Mistakes have been made. The next stage is accountability – Farke will be given another chance to construct a side capable of duplicating the success of that title-winning campaign. City’s boss and his coaching staff must prove they’ve learnt the harsh lessons given to them by the Premier League.
The patience of supporters thus far has been impeccable – they’ve bought into and have allowed themselves to get carried away. They are intelligent enough to understand the financial position, but they will want to see that faith re-paid next season.