Robin Sainty: Awards candidates show strength of Norwich City’s recruitment
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This year’s Player of the Season competition is going to be one of the most interesting for some time.
I can think of half a dozen members of City’s squad for whom a strong case could be made and that gives a big clue as to why the team has been so successful.
Last year it was all about James Maddison and if he didn’t perform then neither did City, so it was indeed fortunate that he proved both so durable and so consistent, but this season there are match winners all over the park.
Most clubs faced with losing a talent as immense as Maddison and with virtually nothing in the transfer budget would struggle to maintain the same level, let alone transform themselves into potential league winners within a season, so it was good to have the chance to hear directly from one of the men responsible for that transformation when sporting director Stuart Webber was one of the guests at a forum following the recent Canaries Trust AGM.
It was fascinating to hear him talk about recruitment because he emphasised the need to find the right blend of personalities as much as the right levels of ability and the way in which this squad has developed into such a tight unit bears testament to the success of that approach.
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Obviously that was not the case last season given Nelson Oliveira’s frequent sulks and Alex Pritchard’s haste to escape to Huddersfield once City’s physios had nursed him back to fitness, but now it is clear that everyone feels part of and enjoys the team’s triumphs whether or not they are in the starting line-up.
Webber emphasised how important the likes of Jordan Rhodes are to the dressing room, despite spending so little time on the pitch, and that’s a huge endorsement of the atmosphere that he and Daniel Farke have created at City.
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If anything showed just how far Webber has been taken to the hearts of City fans it was the reaction to his criticism of some of the crowd reaction to Tim Krul’s error against Hull. When he complained about the lack of atmosphere at Carrow Road last year he was criticised for disrespecting fans, yet this time the only result was the whole away section repeatedly singing Krul’s name at Rotherham.
Farke himself inevitably drew plaudits and Webber noted that as well as the youngsters he was also improving established players like Mario Vrancic, Marco Stiepermann and Moritz Leitner, who recently gave an interview in the German sports magazine Kicker in which he said that being at City had reignited his love for the game.
So can City’s recent success in recruitment continue if promotion is secured? It was clear from Webber’s responses to questions that we would not see a major change in strategy, although it was interesting to hear that the club has been one of the first to scout untapped markets that may open up in a post-Brexit environment.
Foreign markets continue to offer much better value and as he pointed out, why pay £13m for a journeyman British player when you can uncover an Emi Buendia for £1.5m?
It’s obvious the whole recruitment system is infinitely more professional than it was before Webber’s arrival and that there is tremendous attention to detail, an example being that the scouting team for the last two years have compiled two lists, one for the Championship and another for the Premier League.
While I wouldn’t expect a massive number of new arrivals if City go up I feel very confident that we would see a much better use of money than was the case last time around and that City won’t fall into the Fulham trap of trying to create a virtually new team.
However, that’s an issue for the future as City embark on the home straight. Let’s get the job done first.