Jump to content

Recommended Posts


Norwich leaping back to the Premier League, and this time they can stay there


As Carrow Road club prepare for yet another return to top flight, Gregor Robertson argues infamous yo yo club have resources and players to avoid another fall from grace

Buendia has been one of the stars in a brilliant season for Norwich
Buendia has been one of the stars in a brilliant season for Norwich
Friday April 09 2021, 5.00pm, The Times

Tuesday night’s 7-0 defenestration of Huddersfield Town at Carrow Road was not only a performance that underlined Norwich City’s Sky Bet Championship supremacy, but left them with one foot firmly in the Premier League.

Norwich will be promoted if they beat Derby County tomorrow and Brentford and Swansea City fail to win away to Preston North End and Millwall respectively, but regardless it is a matter of when, not if, Daniel Farke’s side return to the top flight. Their emphatic response to last season’s bruising relegation is the result of the same smart leadership, recruitment, coaching — and rich reward for sticking to their methods.

After all, nine months ago, as they crashed out of the top flight after ten consecutive defeats, Norwich were labelled“naive” for their commitment to a progressive style of football, and “lacking ambition” because of their miserly spending in the transfer market.

Those same principles, however, have fuelled this imminent promotion and, most likely, a second Championship title in three years, but there will be those who question whether a club such as Norwich, with a self-funding model, will ever be able to compete in the Premier League this way.

However Norwich, who will be the first club to win five Championship promotions, will certainly return better prepared for the challenge and as Stuart Webber, the club’s sporting director, says, spending north of £100 million on new players does not guarantee survival either.


Tuesday’s victory marked four years since Webber joined Norwich, from Huddersfield as it happens, and it is no coincidence that the two club’s fortunes have since diverged markedly. Webber earned praise for setting a debt-laden, rudderless club on a path toward sustainability, by focusing on investment in young players, and the bricks and mortar in which they would flourish, but Norwich’s failure in the Premier League, which Webber later compared to sending Farke “into war without a gun”, was met with typical honesty.

“We weren’t good enough,” the straight-talking 36-year-old said, but the club’s faith in their German head coach was unwavering. “Our promotion came two or three seasons earlier than the club was geared up for,” Farke admits. “I didn’t fear the sack. One side did not doubt each other.”

Eyes, then, were fixed on an immediate promotion bid and the club, unlike in years gone by, was fiscally stable: their wage bill was half what it had been after their previous demotion to the Championship in 2017; every contract contained a relegation clause; the sale of the defenders Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis to Everton and Newcastle United respectively brought in £40 million.

Ten summer recruits arrived in a bid to refresh the squad and minimise the threat of a relegation hangover. Yet Norwich spent less than £10 million for the third season in a row. The experience and personality of Jordan Hugill, 28, a £3million buy from West Ham United, and the Burnley defender Ben Gibson, also 28, whose loan spell was ended by an ankle injury last month, have been pivotal. The £2 million paid to Everton for the attacking midfielder Kieran Dowell, 23, may prove to be another bargain. Also, Oliver Skipp, 20, the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder has been a revelation during his first loan move.


The pathway from academy to first team remains clear, too. Eleven academy graduates have been given senior debuts since Farke’s arrival in 2017. Andrew Omobamidele, an 18-year-old Irish defender who has started the last two games, is the latest prospect to emerge and be shown trust.

Most important, however, Norwich kept hold of the rest of their prized assets. Teemu Pukki’s hat-trick on Tuesday took the Finland striker to 25 goals for this season, four shy of his 2018-19 haul, and three behind the division’s leading scorer, Ivan Toney, of Brentford.

Emi Buendía, who registered another three assists and his 12th goal of the season against Huddersfield, has had a hand in a remarkable 28 Championship goals and is the division’s outstanding player. Both Buendía, 24, and Todd Cantwell, 23, had their heads turned before the the summer transfer window shut, but along with Max Aarons, the 21-year-old right back who fielded an inquiry from Barcelona, the trio were deemed essential to the club’s promotion push — and can soon look forward to a return to the Premier League, with Norwich for now.

That quartet have been at the heart of some wonderfully slick and incisive play this season. After one win in their opening four games, Norwich have topped the table for all but one week since late November. The closest they came to a wobble was a run of three games without a win at the start of February, since when they have gone 12 unbeaten, a stretch that included nine consecutive wins. Only second-placed Watford have conceded fewer goals and only third-placed Brentford have scored more, but the points gap to both has widened to eight and 17 points respectively.

With the club’s shiny new £8 million Colney training centre now built, and club accounts revealing a small profit last season — albeit before the true effects of the pandemic can be fully measured — the theory is that, in time, the purse strings can be loosened a little.

Cantwell, centre, has been crucial to the club’s promotion push despite interest in the player from elsewhere
Cantwell, centre, has been crucial to the club’s promotion push despite interest in the player from elsewhere

But at the same time, promotion changes very little. The plan and processes will not change. Webber’s aim has been to establish Norwich among the top 26 clubs in the country. That vision was not universally welcomed by supporters, some of whom were loath to accept their place in the food chain. But there is a growing acceptance that the leap from a top 26 club to one established among the top 17 remains huge. And in the meantime, this season has made many appreciate that the journey can just be as rewarding as the destination.

A question mark hovers over the futures of Webber and Farke, both of whose contracts expire next year. Webber has stated that he intends to move on; he has ambitions to work in Spain, Germany and perhaps even in a different industry in the future.

Webber references a book by the British-American author, Simon Sinek, called The Infinite Game. Sports such as football, Sinek argues, are finite: the players are known, the rules are fixed, and the endpoint is clear. The winners and losers are easily identified. For 90 minutes of football, Webber agrees.

Yet the running of a football club, he believes, is an infinite game, because the institution will be there long after the directors, players and staff are gone. For that reason, the fundamental goal should always be to improve the club’s long-term health and prospects, which should inform every decision.

“For a club like ours to sustain ourselves in the Premier League is certainly possible — but also challenging and very much a longer-term plan,” Webber told supporters at the club’s annual meeting. “That’s why some of the steps over the last number of years have been about building real solid foundations so that we can get there, and each time get a better shot at trying to stay there.

“I truly believe that we can do it, and I think everyone involved in the football club believes we can, at some point, do it. Until the day that we leave or are replaced, that belief will stay strong, and we work every single day with that aim in mind.”

  • Thanks 3

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...