Tuesday, 13 May 2014

#NCFC - the future's yellow

Every fairytale comes to an end after a while.  Norwich City's relegation to the Championship last weekend marked the end of an era which had seen the club gain back-to-back promotions after the dark days of a 7-1 defeat to Colchester United in League One in 2009, and go on to spend three successive seasons in the Premier League.

It is with no inconsiderable trepidation that I take to the airwaves of the internet to write about the situation at Norwich City now.  However, one of the greatest things about sport is its ability to get people talking; differences of opinion are common, but there is always room for debate.

For Norwich fans, the 2013-14 season has been characterised predominantly by acrimony and bitter disappointment.  It has been a season of frustration and anger, with few high points, considerable periods of misfortune, and culminating in relegation from the Premier League.

There is little mileage, however, in a backward-looking 'blame game', at this point - and fans who are looking for a single figure of woe at whose door they can lay all the responsibilities for this train-wreck of a season are going to be disappointed.  Who will be our scapegoat now that manager Chris Hughton is gone?  Club CEO David McNally?  Interim manager Neil Adams?  Record signing Ricky Van Wolfswinkel?  No, far more productive than a bile-satiating but ultimately fruitless quest to apportion blame is to look to the future, and think about how we move on from this.
The question on everybody's lips now is "who will be the next manager?"  It's a good question.  Already, there are rumours flying around that Malky Mackay has been offered with the position.  A favourite with the fans, and widely regarded to have been very wrongfully treated during his time in the Premier League with Cardiff City, Mackay was already on Norwich fans' managerial radar long before the sacking of Hughton at the beginning of April.

When I wrote at the time about the various managerial options open to the club, I said that, in my opinion, Mackay was a good manager, but not necessarily a 'step up' - and although he should've been given more time by Cardiff, his record in the Premier League was, overall, quite poor.  Of course, the situation has changed now; Norwich will be a Championship team next season, not a Premier League team, and Mackay has a proven track record of getting a team promoted from the Championship.

However, I feel the club needs to tread very carefully here.  To allow ourselves to slip into the mindset of being a 'Championship club' could be a very slippery slope indeed.

Now, I don't buy this nonsense some fans seem to be pedalling that it's better to be in the Championship anyway.  Some people are saying that the Championship is a closer-fought, more exciting league; that the games are better to watch; that the league is more open because it's not dominated by a handful of super-rich clubs; that "at least, in the Championship, we might win some games".  I am reminded of an expression my Grandfather had - that "it's better to be bottom of the top group than top of the bottom group".  It might help to make you feel better about relegation to say these things, but this is a loser's attitude; the Premier League is the elite of football in this country, and it is where all clubs should want to be - if you don't want to be in the top flight, then what is your raison d'√™tre as a club?

So, let's forget that argument straight away.  As a football club, we want to get back into the Premier League as quickly as possible.  But again, we need to be a little careful here, and not take too shortsighted an approach.  Winning promotion again would be fantastic, of course - but this time, that needs to be sustainable.  What we need is a strategy which not only gets us back into the Premier League, but keeps us there.

This is why I am slightly wary of the forthcoming managerial appointment.  I am worried that those making the big decisions at the club won't be thinking big enough - that they will start to think of us as a 'Championship club', and therefore appoint a 'Championship manager'.  The groundwork for becoming an established Premier League team needs to start now, not after promotion, and that comes from the top, with a good, ambitious manager.

Malky Mackay might win automatic promotion with Norwich, just as he did with Cardiff - and that would be excellent.  But would he then struggle in the Premier League with Norwich, as he did with Cardiff?  Mackay is a safe and solid choice, and would do a good job - but, in my view, there are better managerial options out there.

In my previous post about Norwich City's managers, I spoke of Michael Laudrup (inexplicably sacked by Swansea during the season just gone) as being my preferred candidate.  In his first season at Swansea, Laudrup's record was excellent, and I think his style and approach would suit Norwich well.  Another name to throw into the hat (which was not the case back in February), would be Tim Sherwood - with the highest win percentage of any Spurs manager ever, and with links to Norwich City already, Sherwood was let go by Tottenham just this morning, and will surely be looking for opportunities to get back into management.

Again, as I said before, it is easy to throw these names around.  Hey, while we're at it, why don't we try and get Jupp Heynckes out of retirement?!  The other side to the coin is whether these managers would even want to come to Norwich anyway.  As a newly relegated club, whose form in the league over the past few months has been pretty dire, we are surely an even less attractive destination for ambitious, forward-thinking managers than we were before?

Well, maybe so.  But this is where we need to bring our biggest strengths into play - namely, the club's strong financial position, and passionate fan-base - and, again, where our top brass need to be thinking big, and long-term.  We don't know what options Laudrup or Sherwood (or, for that matter, Heynckes!) have on the table already; it may be that an approach from Norwich would be by far and away the best job offer either of them has had since their respective sackings - or it may be that they're both already being courted by Man. Utd., Arsenal and Real Madrid.  Who knows?!

What we need to do, though, is approach these managers and set out a vision for the club.  We need to show them that there is money available for transfers, and that they will be allowed to bring in the players that they want; we need to assure them that we're not the sort of club to indulge in knee-jerk sackings the moment we concede a goal or lose a game; and, most importantly of all, we need to make it clear that the club has long-term ambitions to become an established part of the Premier League, and that we are building this from the ground up, starting now.

There is no doubt that this is going to be a very hard task for whoever takes over.  The Championship is very competitive, and lots of clubs are after that prize of promotion, and a shot at the big time.  But this is why it is now so important to lay the foundations for a long-term plan; relegation from the Premier League is not a reason to be less ambitious - no, it is a reason to be more ambitious.

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