‘It is a disgrace’: Norwich fire back at critics and offer Farke support | Nick Ames

Sporting director Stuart Webber savages claims club lack ambition, discusses manager and urges fans not to give up

As Norwich’s players slunk away from Stamford Bridge after a supine 7-0 defeat, a popular narrative gathered momentum. It broadly went that the Canaries, who had stuck around for one season after three of their previous four promotions to the Premier League, are a waste of time: that they offer the division nothing, occupying a spot that could be filled by a club with loftier ambitions than simply to take the prize money and run.

The impression has arisen because Norwich, relegated in 2019-20 by a gaping margin, are on course for a similarly ignominious end this time. On paper, the pattern that emerged back then has continued seamlessly and losing to Chelsea meant they have taken two points from their past 19 top-flight outings.

They host Leeds on Sunday and the match, their 10th of the season, feels crucial. If fortunes begin to take shape at this point in a campaign then the difference between five points, which would put them within touching distance of their opponents, and their current haul of two appears vast. Only a win will really do: Daniel Farke’s side need to show up and have a go.

Inside Carrow Road there is frustration at the idea they would try anything else. On Wednesday, Stuart Webber, their sporting director, took aim at suggestions Norwich are merely here for the ride and backed their existing setup to turn things around. In pre‑season, they spent £70m, including loan fees, on 11 signings; only 10 clubs in Europe spent more and although few of their arrivals have made a sustained impact those are not the actions of an organisation rushing to the bank.

Webber referred to “scandalous things” levelled against Norwich’s intentions and looked to correct the record. “To say we’ve accepted relegation already, after nine games, it is a disgrace,” he said.

It would follow that Farke, who Webber previously admitted was sent “to war with no gun” two seasons ago, is feeling added heat.

“People were playing out of position and players were playing who should never have been playing for Norwich in the Premier League, if we’re being cruel,” Webber said of their last relegation. “Whereas now we’re in a very fortunate position where Daniel has to leave players out of a 20-man squad.

“People talk about a lack of ambition and that is wrong. Our strategy and work might not be good enough, which is why we are languishing behind. But definitely not the ambition of the club. Last time it could be labelled at us, but definitely not this time.”

Stuart Webber at Norwich’s training centre this month.
Stuart Webber at Norwich’s training centre this month. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

The context is different: Farke has a suite of weapons Norwich believe can withstand the season’s rigours. Webber stopped short of lumbering the head coach, who signed a new deal in July, with the dreaded vote of confidence even though he said their situation is unacceptable. Pressure is gathering but their priority is to maintain the structure that has served them since Webber and Farke arrived in 2017.

“To be questioning Daniel, at this point, would be incredibly unfair,” he said. “We believe we’ve got everything to be an established Premier League club and at the minute we’re not demonstrating that on the pitch. But this isn’t about focusing on one man. This is about focusing on the whole.

“We can’t be setting targets of ‘someone’s got a game left, two games left, 10 games left, a season left, two seasons left’. We’re fully committed to Daniel, that’s why we gave him a four-year contract in the summer. The work he’s done at this club has been beyond incredible.”

Webber’s own future has been under scrutiny, in the context of an upwards move when his terms expire next summer, but his situation is expected to be resolved in the next month. Under his watch, the club’s infrastructure has been transformed: a revamped training ground cost £12m and innovations such as the £750,000 SoccerBot360 system, which allows players to train in simulated match scenarios, are expected to reap long-term dividends. Using every metric bar the league table, Norwich feel comfortable in Premier League skin.

Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber enjoy Norwich’s 2019 promotion.
Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber enjoy Norwich’s 2019 promotion. Photograph: JASONPIX/Shutterstock

That is why the idea they have given up trying to stay there rankles with Webber so much: he detects it has seeped into Norwich’s fanbase and points to subdued atmospheres when Watford and Brighton visited recently. “As a football fan you’ve got to recognise when your team needs a bit of help,” he said. “All I’d say to the fans is don’t give up on us now.”

Perhaps lethargy in the stands owes something to yo-yo fatigue: a resignation that, for clubs such as Norwich, West Brom and Fulham, extended purgatory between the top two divisions is the best outcome even the most sophisticated model can bring. Webber rejects that idea: Norwich think if Southampton can become a top-flight staple, they can too. The concern is that current results will prolong that process.

Norwich fans before last month’s home defeat by Watford.
Norwich fans before last month’s home defeat by Watford. Photograph: Joe Toth/Shutterstock

In the bigger picture, Norwich are a major success story. They engage dynamically with their community and, in a wide-ranging conversation, Webber was animated when discussing the way football has been ripped from its moorings elsewhere. He dwelt on the example of their local rivals, Ipswich, still grubbing around League One, and the plights of clubs such as Sheffield Wednesday and Derby. “It killed me when the six did what they did,” he says of the Super League plans that seem to have been forgiven and forgotten. “It’s the rawness of the game, and when we forget that, like the six did, it’s a disgrace.”

Norwich have not lost sight of it but the harsh reality is they will be judged by the bottom line. “We play in the best league in the world and it is a privilege for Daniel to go up against Thomas Tuchel or Marcelo Bielsa,” Webber said. “I said to the staff if we don’t want that, let’s ring up West Brom and see if they want another go and we will piss off back there and play Peterborough. Or we can come into this league and prove we are good enough. If we are not, we are not.”

On Sunday, they have a chance to change perceptions, in Norwich and beyond.


Nick Ames

The GuardianTramp

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