Sunday, 16 September 2007

Are Norwich Worthy Anymore?

Sunday afternoon, October 1st. Norwich City are playing Burnley at their Carrow Road home in their first live televised game of the season. Veteran new-signing Dion Dublin is making his home debut, nearly twenty years after being released by the club as a trainee.

Earlier in the week majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones released a statement which more-or-less said that manager Nigel Worthington had just two games to sort out what was becoming a sorry season for the club.

Things did not go well. The team, save for midfielder Darren Huckerby and striker Robert Earnshaw, played poorly, as Burnley emerged victorious, winning 4-1. Just a few hours later, Nigel Worthington was out of a job. So where did it all go wrong?

There’s no doubt that Nigel Worthington did a lot of good for Norwich City Football Club. He guided the team to the First Division play-off final in 2002. He guided the team to the Premiership for the first time in years. But perhaps that was where it all went wrong.

When Norwich returned to the top flight of English football, every fan started to remember the good old days, when they could take the game to the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool. Back to the days when they finished third in the league and qualified for the UEFA Cup. Back to the days where they beat the mighty Bayern Munich in their own backyard, and scared the hell out of Italian giants Inter Milan.

But they soon found out that things changed in the years that they were away. Norwich always took to the field as the “plucky underdogs”, unable to handle some of the world’s best players as they went back down after just one season.

However, things looked promising. Norwich were installed as immediate favourites to go straight back to the Premiership. Everyone thought they had the squad to do this.

The sale of Dean Ashton to West Ham in the January transfer window certainly didn’t help the team’s cause. But then again, Norwich were always known as a selling club. Whenever one of the players became nationally known, the bigger boys were always sniffing around.

Promotion didn’t come last season, but things looked promising again this season. With the likes of Darren Huckerby, Robert Earnshaw, Yousuf Safri and new signing Lee Croft, fans were hopeful that Norwich would be challenging for at least a play-off place. There was a promising start to the season, but a succession of defeats and poor performances led to the extraordinary statement from majority shareholders Smith and Wynn-Jones. Worthington’s days were numbered, but perhaps it would have been better if one of Britain’s most popular television cook had put him out of his misery there and then. Worthington wasn’t doing a good job, and not even the signing of a former England international would be enough to save his job.

It’s obvious that the people in the world of professional football are very impatient. Everyone demands instant success, and complain like mad when that success isn’t forthcoming. Worthington did a lot of good for Norwich City, but if you look back over a decade, the damage may have been done all the way back then.

Former chairman Robert Chase’s refusal to loosen the purse strings after Mike Walker had guided the team to third in the league and into the UEFA Cup may have been the start of it. Martin O’Neil’s resignation after just a few months in charge was another symptom. The sale of some of the country’s best players to bigger clubs hasn’t helped matters. And during all of this, the fans have demanded more. But they just didn’t get it.

Some fans say that given the support the club has, Norwich City should no longer be regarded as a “small club”, that this sort of mentality should become a thing of the past. But what they fail to realise that as well as being a football club, Norwich City is also a business.

It’s all well and good spending millions and millions of transfer fees and wages to get the best players for the club, but will that do any good in the long run? If the club hasn’t got the financial clout to compete with the big boys, they it shouldn’t try to compete. A fine example of this is the plight of Leeds United. They went from being Champions League semi-finalists to relegation and the Championship, all because they over-paid on transfer fees and players wages.

Will Norwich City ever become a big club? Will there ever come a time when the Canaries will be able to attract the top managers and the best players that money can buy? Not unless a Delia and Michael are able to find a Russian billionaire to sell their shares to.

Norwich City’s current plight means that promotion to the Premiership this season just won’t happen. Perhaps it’s time for City’s fans to settle for what will probably be a mid-table position this season. But will there ever come a day when Norwich will compete with the big boys on an equal footing again? Probably not, but given the way that football fans react, there will always be calls for Norwich go that one step further to get to the top of English football again.

The only thing is though, what harm will it do to them in the long run?