Paddy Davitt: Daniel Farke and his Norwich City dilemma
Norwich City's surprise Championship promotion push is being powered by youth.
Paying lip service to developing talent and actually having the bravery to blood them, in the unforgiving world of the English second tier, is something entirely different.
Daniel Farke deserves huge credit for not only accepting the original challenge framed by sporting director Stuart Webber - to join a club embarking on a new path. Much more than that, perhaps, his willingness to stick with that policy once last season’s promise started to dissolve into the eventual mediocrity of a mid-table finish.
Jamal Lewis was at the vanguard as Farke paved the way for his elevation from unheralded prospect to first choice for club and now country. Lewis made his full league debut at Birmingham City on Boxing Day 2017 in a game that could have sucked City perilously close to the relegation scrap.
The left back never looked back and neither have the likes of Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey or Todd Cantwell this season.
These young men have brought a freshness and energy that indirectly appears to have helped fans re-connect with their football club and allied to astute recruitment has now coalesced around a genuine tilt at the Premier League.
Yet Farke may face a fresh dilemma over these defining battles, starting with in-form Bristol City’s trip to Carrow Road this weekend. Do you continue to back youngsters to handle the pressure and the rising expectation or do you shield them and favour some of the more seasoned campaigners?
Barring more injuries, Farke should be able to call on the likes of Timm Klose, Grant Hanley, Mario Vrancic and Alex Tettey over this run-in; a quartet of past and present internationals who have been around the block a few more times than young men with everything in front of them.
Certainly there is no outward sign or any real trace the likes of Lewis, Aarons or Godfrey are starting to wilt.
All three played key roles at Elland Road in a barnstorming Championship contest dripping in sub-plots and twirling scarves.
That was a coming-of-age performance for City’s academy trio as much as Farke’s entire squad. But at that stage, the Canaries were still jostling for position.
A few more hurdles have been cleared since and they still head the pack.
The full enormity of the prize within their grasp and the growing noise from outside the bubble may start to penetrate that air of confident assurance.
Only Farke can make that call, but pressed on this very topic prior to the 4-0 win at Bolton, the German head coach remained convinced the pressure weighs heavier on their rivals.
“I really got the feeling we can play in this situation because it is not like we have spent £100m to force promotion,” he said. “We can play this situation with a smile on our face and less pressure than several other clubs who need to get promoted to avoid financial trouble or whatever.
“For that I think it’s a much more calmed down situation but on the other hand you have to react with a gut feeling, as all individual players react in a different way.
“Sometimes in the last weeks you have to calm them down, sometimes you have to speak about the situation, sometimes you don’t have to mention it at all.”
Farke sounds like a coach willing to go all in and trust his young players to seal the deal. Perhaps he is right to accentuate the upside to deploying such an inexperienced core.
“It can also have an advantage, because with young dogs it is like ‘okay, let’s go play some football’ and they have not played in this pressure situation before so they don’t know what it means.
“I will use my gut feeling in the last few weeks because I know Max Aarons is a bit different as a player to Emi Buendia.
“It is important in terms of man management I handle this situation, but in general my feeling is this group sticks together so much and has such a good spirit. This helps even more than trying to play mind games about opponents or whatever.
“We’ll go our way and enjoy this situation.”
Pressure and expectancy? Sounds like fun and enjoyment to Farke.
One hopes that remains the case for his young charges.