Norwich City’s majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones are under the microscope for appearing hideously out of touch with the modern game.
Recent quotes from the two on the topic of foreign ownership were shameful and outrageous. It was just baffling ignorance to Neil’s struggles in the Championship. Their position of power alienated fans and Smith’s nonchalant reaction to furious “Delia, sort it out” chants infuriated the Canaries faithful. The owners must be able to adapt to modern football and be open to investment and fresh ideas.
The ‘unanimous decision’ made by the Norfolk club’s board to sack manager Alex Neil was well received by the fans who had quietly protested against the Scotsman’s reign following a run of three wins in 17 fixtures from October to January. It wasn’t the first time City fans had been made to wait for the seemingly inevitable, however.
The board were remarkably generous towards Chris Hughton during a long spell of poor performances during the 2013/14 Premier League campaign, infuriating many fans by waiting until relegation was all but confirmed to take action. This time around, the majority are frustrated at the club’s blind loyalty throughout the tough periods of the season, only to pull the trigger when promotion seems out of reach. Though Neil’s removal appears positive, the club’s issues run deeper than changing the manager.
The board have also managed to escape criticism for a consistently poor scouting and recruitment network for an obscene amount of time. Record signings Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Steven Naismith, each signed during top tier spells, were major flops. The duo scored a combined total of two goals in 38 appearances; one goal each. Unfortunately, this pair aren’t the only examples of poor business the club has made. That illustrious list of miserable signings includes Jonas Gutierrez, Ignasi Miquel, Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, Jos Hooiveld, Andre Wisdom, Patrick Bamford and, most recently, Sergi Canos. Signed from Liverpool in the summer, Canos was sold to Brentford at a loss in January, putting a shameful and embarrassing six-month saga to a pitiful end.
If Norwich City is to become a progressive modern club, it is crucial that chairman Ed Balls keeps his promise of a new structure. Several high earners including Seb Bassong, Youssouf Mulumbu, Kyle Lafferty and Michael Turner all appear to be leaving for nothing in the summer after failing to live up to expectations. Other members of the old guard like John Ruddy, Steven Whittaker and Ryan Bennett are also likely to go, meaning a new core will be a necessity in the summer, and it is essential that the correct type and calibre of player is brought in. The issue with the current regime is that it feels massively unlikely to happen due to poor scouting knowledge and a slow approach to doing business when a top target is chosen, thus confidence is low. A new scouting regime, a more in-depth, comprehensive structure to locating the correct player for the club is an absolute must if Norwich City are to develop.
Another problem has been a power struggle across the board. Technical Director Ricky Martin has had a huge say in transfer activity despite a poor track record in scouting and recruitment previously, reporting to the CEO, now Steve Stone, who is also the club’s finance director. Martin has seen his input in affairs increase following the departures of hugely successful former chief executive David McNally and former finance director Sam Gordon. The aforementioned duo played enormous roles in City’s rise from League One to the Premier League, helping recover from a position of huge debt, making powerful, forward-thinking decisions in the process.
Since McNally’s departure, the club has appeared to show a lack of organisation and leadership. McNally, once labelled ‘McNasty’, made smart, decisive business decisions with long-term plans in place. He acted quickly upon a poor start in the 2009/10 season by getting his number one target Paul Lambert in, supporting him where possible and giving him huge trust in transfers and backroom activity – a decision which paid dividends to the club. He also brought in first choice target Chris Hughton to replace Lambert when the going got tough and plucked Alex Neil from Scottish minnows Hamilton Academical when the club appeared to be heading towards Championship midtable mediocrity under Neil Adams. For Norwich City to get back on the right track, appointing a similarly proven, critical CEO and allowing them to make the important business decisions will be central.
Discontent lingers around Norwich City and problems like these must be addressed for progress to be made.