Norwich City and the penalty of raised expectation

DANIEL FARKE’s dismissal just after Norwich City had secured their first victory in the Premier League may have seemed a little harsh, but it may have sent a signal that the club is unwilling to continue its recent cycle of promotion-relegation-promotion.

Norwich outspent more than half the current Premier League – £60 million – in the last transfer window and their gross outlay was three times the Canaries’ total for 2020-21. Their last Premier season, 2019-20, saw them spend just £ 8 million. Those figures tell you that expectation may just have been that little bit higher than the last time Norwich graced the top flight.

With half their regular line-up changing from 2020-21, Norwich probably needed time to gel, but 11 games into the season, just one win and two draws was the sum total of their efforts. In the past five years, Norwich’s record was the worst of all newly-promoted sides at the same stage, a dubious honour shared with Fulham in 2018-19. Just five goals in 11 represents a dire return, with three of those goals coming from Teemu Pukki.

Even in early November, Norwich’s position looks perilous and may have been worsened by the reinvigoration that will surely take place at Newcastle United. Norwich may have acquired the tag of “yo-yo club”, but settling for such a varied and limited strategy can be dangerous when things don’t go to plan. 

It’s a little like a club at the top end considering Champions League qualification as a form of honourable status, only to find it leaves you empty-handed when you slip below that benchmark. Console yourself with being a “snakes and ladders” club doesn’t look too great when you drop from being a contender and lose momentum in the Championship. 

As it stands, Norwich look destined to return to the second tier, but given they have spent big by their standards, it would represent a failed gamble, especially as the club has been quite dependent on player trading as a form of financial stability. Over the past seven years, they have made more than £ 150 million from player sales.

Farke was seen as a very human “nice guy” by many people in the game, certainly benefitting from having the likes of Jürgen Klopp on speed-dial. His record at Norwich reflected the club’s contemporary status, two Championship successes and a relegation and a win rate of 41.8%. He departed with no small amount of style, talking of the “great pride” in his time with the Canaries. He even thanked the local media for their coverage!

It is, of course, the sacking season in top level football. An international break provides some respite for club officials and a time of assessment ahead of year-end. After a lull in managerial turnarounds, 25% of Premier League bosses have been sacked in 2020-21, with Dean Smith (Aston Villa), Nuno Espirito Santo (Tottenham), Steve Bruce (Newcastle United) and Xisco Muñoz (Watford) all joining Farke in the queue for contractual compensation. There are others that are sitting in wobbly chairs at the moment, including Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United.

Norwich, despite the financial impact of covid, which has been estimated to be in excess of £ 30 million, managed to make a profit of £ 21.5 million in 2020-21, although their wage bill, one of the highest in the Championship last season, was 117% of income. Norwich have always been perceived as a conservative club and they have made a profit in three of the last five years.

The club’s revenues totalled £ 57.2 million, a drop of 62% after their last Premier season. There was a huge dependency on broadcasting income, the £ 49 million generated accounting for 86% of overall revenues. Matchday income fell by 7.5% and commercial earnings were slightly down. A year in the Premier should, even if it ends sourly, provide the financial platform to mount a challenge for promotion once more.

What next for Norwich? The club’s sporting director said, just a few weeks ago, that the results were not just down to Farke, so will there be more changes at Carrow Road? But the prospect of another relegation may have been too much to take. The club could do far worse than make a bold statement and give someone like Emma Hayes of Chelsea’s WSL team a chance. Now that would smack of innovation. Most likely it will be someone from the usual merry-go-round of candidates. 

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