All aboard for another turn of Norwich City's wheel of fortune
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It is never dull at Norwich City. Downturns on the pitch, revamps off it. How did we get here? Head of sport Chris Lakey asks the questions. Canaries’ correspondent Paddy Davitt strives to answer them.
Q: So, Paddy, how on earth did this all begin?
A: Jez Moxey’s surprise exit appeared to fire the starting gun on Norwich’s new way forward. City’s top brass felt the old style chief executive/manager model had run its course. From that point onwards it was a case of finding the pieces to fit the jigsaw, and a fresh downturn in results on the pitch injected a degree of urgency. Alex Neil’s inability to halt an alarming slide - since relegation from the Premier League - eventually led to the Scot’s demise. The decision not to make an instant like-for-like replacement and head hunt a Mark Warburton or Gary Rowett illustrated City’s board placed a higher premium on the process than the personnel. They want the best available talent to forge a relationship between a sporting director - with Stuart Webber poised to be appointed if Norwich can thrash out a compensation package with Huddersfield - and a head coach that will form the core of this blueprint.
Q: So the manager went – do they just replace him? Or what?
A: Clearly not. Otherwise it would have been an all-out push for Warburton and Rowett. With a dash of Alan Pardew and Roy Hodgson thrown in. City may have consulted the former England manager, who is a close personal friend of the club’s majority shareholders, but Hodgson was never in the running for either post. Even the title seems redundant in this new formula. City want a head coach, not a manager, with a much narrower sphere of influence. Specifically coaching the first team and striving to put a winning side on the pitch. Expect the head coach to still have an input into recruitment matters. But they will not be driving that process; a marked departure from how it has always.
Q: A new structure? Who fills the gaps?
A: Think the old school role of the chief executive. Then split it in two. Steve Stone is the steadying influence on the business side in a managing director role. The footballing part of the equation is headed up by a sporting director. Barring a late, nasty turn of events that will be Webber, who will head up a multi-faceted operation with the proposed head coach, technical director Ricky Martin and academy chief Richard Money all reporting into the sporting director.
Q: What’s the timeline? Are they in a hurry?
A: Chairman Ed Balls intimated they want the sporting director and head coach in position ahead of the summer horse-trading. Balls conceded on Friday they are ‘close’ to filling the sporting director vacancy and expect to announce that imminently. If so, then it is full steam ahead to recruit a head coach.
Alan Irvine will take charge for the trip to Aston Villa. He could stay in post until the end of the season because the reality is City may have to bide their time until the action is over on the pitch. Should City’s play-off push fall away in the weeks ahead, the new axis need a full summer to plot a steady course, comprising the churn of releasing out-of-contract players and freshening up a squad to equip it for another tour of the Championship.
Q: Who does it affect most – players, other staff?
A: The playing squad. Stone and Martin are continuing to hold discussions with a large group of players either out of contract in the summer or with options in the club’s favour. Once the new appointments are revealed expect that process to accelerate. Neil may have gone but he was right about one thing. It needs a major overhaul to the playing squad at Carrow Road.
Q: Can you name names of players?
A: Seb Bassong, Michael Turner and Youssouf Mulumbu are all out of contract. Given Stone in the past week has spoken about how some of the higher earning players being out of contract is ‘helpful’ to the club you would expect those lads to move on. Then there is final decisions to be reached on men like John Ruddy, Ryan Bennett and Kyle Lafferty, who could potentially be jettisoned or have contract options taken up.
Q: Do City have any money to play with or is the new man going to have to scrimp and save?
A: Clearly reducing the wage bill to a significant degree affords the new regime a degree of flexibility. Plus there will be inevitable interest in some of their more talented operators. The era of big transfer fees may be over for the time being but based on Webber’s astute use of the loan and overseas markets to underpin Huddersfield’s success, plus the desire to refresh the squad, there should be sufficient trading this summer.
Q The future: bright, cloudy or downright grotty?
A: All hinges on the identities of Norwich’s new sporting director and head coach. Should Webber be unveiled in the coming days the speculation David Wagner could follow him south would only intensify.
That type of ticket is likely to play well with the vast majority of City’s support. Wagner, however, is unlikely to be short of offers, whether he guides Huddersfield to the Premier League or not. But there would be genuine grounds for optimism at Carrow Road going into the close season.