Michael Bailey: There’s one quality that has lifted Norwich City back to the Premier League
As the analysis delves deeper into Norwich City’s stunning Championship success, Canaries correspondent Michael Bailey throws up a new theme that helped lead an unfancied side back to the Premier League.
It was probably about November when I first started to run out of superlatives – it's been that kind of season.
Indeed, once the national press started filing their fact-finders on how Norwich City had so discreetly flipped from hopeless to peerless, the themes of this success were ingrained in the fabric of the Canaries' story: recruitment, team spirit, culture, style, philosophy, recruitment, coaching, unity, youth, energy, recruitment, value, creativity and a fair-sized dose of superb recruitment.
Now we've reached the end of such a miraculous journey, there are few words left to use. I guess we're all just collectively in awe of such a phenomenal football project put together in front of us.
But in the fog of covering these remarkable days following on from achieving Premier League promotion, I actually found myself hanging on a late addition that covers every sinew of this bewildering narrative; a model that questions most of English football's preconceptions.
Fortune favours the brave, they say. And if there is one recurring theme to Norwich City since the early spring of 2017 and Alex Neil's sacking, it's being brave.
There was Stuart Webber's decision to leave Huddersfield, with the side he built on the brink of realising their Premier League dream. He has often spoken of the logic behind his switch to Norwich, and it makes sense – but it was also a brave, bold move that raised plenty of eyebrows.
There was City bidding to make their first sporting director someone who had done roles predominantly a rung or two lower on the ladder at other clubs, and certainly at clubs where the stakes were short of the Canaries' need: bravery and trust that has been significantly rewarded since.
How about Daniel Farke's appointment? I can still remember the wider reaction – if I'm being honest, even my own – the moment it became clear City were appointing Borussia Dortmund II's head coach. It was a brave decision in terms of what that reaction would be and the perception of the decision; those with weaker belief in their own judgments than Webber might have taken a different option. Now, no one would argue there might be some potential in the German former Under-23s coach.
Norwich have a newly-formed reputation for only accepting top dollar for their sales – even in situations when people have really wanted to leave. Alex Pritchard, Jacob and Josh Murphy – even James Maddison. That only comes with being brave enough to hold firm when you need to.
Let's talk Angus Gunn – a goalkeeper without a single minute of senior football, entrusted with an entire season at Norwich. Or Tim Krul, with no guarantees this was a man who could rediscover his best form.
Or Kenny McLean, Emi Buendia and Philip Heise – all bought six months before they were needed, yet bought early for the very reason Norwich knew they would indeed be needed; eventually.
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I'm not sure I could name many football clubs with such limited financial means, that would still operate in such a way.
How about a heads-up for Ed Wootten, the academy goalkeeping coach who got the nod to try his hand at the first-team gig as Dean Kiely jumped ship – and Wootten has done far more than simply wind up Paul Lambert.
Cue the trip to Birmingham on Boxing Day 2017 where Norwich would've been looking over their shoulder at the relegation scrap if they lost, or the first East Anglian derby of this season at an Ipswich Town side still claiming rejuvenation under Paul Hurst – those two games being the respective full league debuts for Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons.
How do you beat that? Probably by sticking with them – and other notable young prospects – as you continue to leave experienced talents with their own big presence on the bench.
Or in even simpler terms, what about the football?
From showing such patience in a game's final throes, to playing the ball out in the tightest of spaces deep in their own half.
From fully committing their full-backs forward at every opportunity, to putting in performances of phenomenal consistency that always demand bravery on the ball – and when a first half didn't go well, Farke asked his side not to tighten up or take greater care, but to become even braver. From those late goals against Millwall where the ball didn't leave the floor – to taking the plunge on bringing players in that others couldn't or wouldn't commit. And for the record, you imagine they now regret it.
Whether the risks were high or not is probably a decent discussion point – but there is no argument over the rewards they have delivered. Which no doubt means a lot of the forthcoming summer is going to involve a lot of words trying to work out whether that same bravery can have the same impact in the Premier League – where the playing, physical and financial level is a good few rungs up compared to the EFL Championship.
Sticking to what the Canaries believe will be crucial to any long-term success they can achieve. Remembering the things that got them to where they are.
It'll take a brave club to repeat all those traits in the top-flight – fortunately that's exactly what Norwich City are.
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