Friday, October 12, 2012
I often wonder what domestic league managers do when the international break comes around.
A few years ago it wouldn’t have been a problem for a Norwich manager. No one would be involved, so pack all the players off to some far-flung training camp for a bit of mid-season bonding.
But now half the squad (when not mysteriously injured) are likely to be called upon, the other half left to fend for themselves at home – unwanted and unloved.
Perhaps they get ‘extra special treatment’ and are rounded up anyway for a special five-a-side tournament in foreign fields.
Or perhaps Chris Hughton uses it as an opportunity to get some time to himself. Is he currently travelling the four corners of the world in the hope of spotting some untapped talent? Maybe he’s locked away with his backroom staff, desperately trying to come up with a winning formula?
Or perhaps he can be found wandering the streets of Norwich, looking forlorn and lost, pining for the return of his men?
Whatever the answer, you can guarantee that for Hughton and his backroom team these two weeks will have led to a great deal of soul-searching and analysis as they try to work out what’s going right or wrong.
As Hughton himself admits, it has been a disappointing start to the season. Second from bottom with no wins from seven and just three points. What’s more, we have received three proper thrashings and we’ve scored the fewest goals in the league.
On the plus side we are still in the Capital One Cup, meaning the manager has at least found a way to stem our usual early exits.
Oh, how the manager must wish we had just got something out of the two very winnable games at home to QPR and West Ham.
Two wins and seven points would have put us in a comfortable 14th position and I doubt anyone would be getting as twitchy as many currently are.
But I’m still adamant it’s too early for all that and too early to make fair and reasoned judgment as to whether Hughton is the right man to take us forward and keep us in the league.
That said, if the manager and his team are taking a bit of time out to ponder on how to turn things around, here’s a few things I’d like them to work on…
• Work out a preferred way of playing. We had 4-4-1-1 in the friendlies and early games, then 4-4-2, and now 4-4-1-1 again. We need one of them to work.
• Settle the central defence. I know it’s been in part due to injury but we’ve had three different centre- back partnerships in seven games and there are probably more combinations to come. It isn’t a coincidence the best defensive teams in the league have a largely settled pairing.
• Bring back the belief. At times the players look like they don’t believe they can win. It then impacts on the way they play. History shows they can go toe-to-toe with the best in this league. This needs to start with the manager – send them out thinking they can win.
• Find a role for David Fox and free Jonny Howson. I’d like to see ‘our Scholes’ pulling the strings and Howson once again making his trademark runs into the box. Even if it means 4-4-1-1, with Howson as the man in behind and, whisper it, possibly even no Wes Hoolahan.
• Stop standing off. How many goals this season have come from us standing back and waiting for a team to come at us? As they might say in my Sunday League: Get in their faces!
• Attack, attack, attack – let’s get our players higher up the field against the weaker teams. Howson making his late runs, Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington going at defenders and Russell Martin bombing here, there and everywhere. It’s a risk but could have made the difference against QPR and West Ham.
This will do for starters, but despite the rather lengthy list it isn’t time for panic.
Look at the six teams at the bottom of the league as it stands. I’m betting they will all be in the scrap when it comes to May.
You may even be able to throw Swansea into that group for good measure.
Get some of this list right in the next few weeks and things will look much, much brighter.
• If you are a Premier League manager it seems there’s always either ‘a good time’ for an international break or ‘a bad time’, never anything in the middle. Well I guess this has definitely been a good time because hopefully by a week Saturday memories of the Liverpool and Chelsea defeats will have long faded away. To go back to that bit about belief, we should be aiming to get something against Arsenal at home, after which a run of six games, two against fellow strugglers, has to be the time we start to get wins on the board.
• A week after that cleverly- planted Paul Lambert revelation, I can’t help but feel a bit non-plussed about the whole thing. As sad as it is, such messy wrangles are the way of the modern football world and I would guess this sort of thing is more common than we would even realise (it’s possible most clubs don’t choose to put it out there in such a way). It doesn’t change what Lambert did for the club, doesn’t take away the memories of his period in charge and doesn’t really alter my opinion of him. It’s just another twist in the soap opera that is professional football – and isn’t that part of the reason why we love it so much?
• Forgetting my views on what’s happened at Liverpool in the last couple of years, I can’t help but cast a jealous eye at the fact several young players are starting to come through the ranks. For Norwich, once a club famed for its ability to bring through youngsters, the well has run sadly dry. This season five appearances have been made by former trainees at the club, compared to 11 the season before. That figure in our last season in the Championship was 71, largely due to Chris Martin and Korey Smith. Speaking to the club about this in the past, I know we have been hamstrung by the so-called ’90-minute’ rule restricting where we can pluck players from. But let’s hope the shake-up at the academy, with the emergence of an under-21 side, helps get us back to our formerly prolific ways.