Norwich City: Klose but no cigar

It’s been another turbulent season for Norwich City. At times looking dead and buried, at times looking sure to avoid relegation, the fans have been through the mill. Here to tell the tale of a season that ended in yet another relegation is James Stangroom of Canadian Canaries. Follow the group on Twitter at @CanCanaries.

What a difference a year makes. Almost exactly twelve months ago, flying high after winning the promotion playoff, there were many reasons to be optimistic about the future of Norwich City Football Club. The team had avoided languishing in the Championship for longer than a single season, manager Alex Neil was the season’s saviour with a bright future ahead of him, and the club itself was said to be stable and financially healthy.

As soon as promotion was achieved, all eyes turned to Alex Neil and the transfer market. Despite their success in the Championship, the squad was in need of improvement to bridge the gap to the Premier League, and it was expected that Norwich would make a small splash in the market. Alex Neil, it was reported, would be given the resources that he would require to improve the team. The splash was more like a trickle, and as the season’s kickoff approached, concern was growing that the improvements were not enough to compete in the top flight.

Despite the relatively quiet summer, the season started well enough. In August and September, the Canaries managed to take 9 points from 7 matches. Not the type of form that will win you the league, but certainly a favourable start towards a more realistic goal: survival. There were glimpses of trouble, however. The defense lacked depth and supplied costly blunders at regular intervals, and going forward the team failed to generate chances, and when they did, were inept at converting those chances into goals.

Most of the optimism that accompanied the team up from the Championship was soon replaced by a nervous countdown to the January transfer window. After a win-less October, including a 6-2 thrashing by fellow relegation fodder Newcastle, it was becoming painfully obvious: this team wasn’t good enough to play in this league. Aside from a brief string of good results from the holiday season fixtures, there was little reason to believe that this team would survive without some serious intervention.

That intervention came in the form of Swiss centre back Timm Klose from Wolfsburg, and at least, the defence started to show some promise. Although wins were not immediate, the Canaries were picking fewer balls out of their own net, and the back four started to show signs of composure and structure. Steven Naismith also joined from Everton to assist with the attack, and although he provided depth as injuries began to mount, his impact was far less noticeable.

The turning point of the season, so it would seem, came in a run of three promising results: drawing to Manchester City, defeating West Brom away and winning a thriller at Carrow Road against Newcastle in injury time – a so-called “six pointer” that provided some padding from the drop zone. Things were looking up. New fan favourite Timm Klose had finally sorted out the defense, and even popped in a goal himself against the Magpies.

With six matches to go, including a massive run-in vs. Sunderland, there was belief among that this squad had found their stride just in time to squeak out survival. While losing to 1-0 Crystal Palace a week later was certainly a setback, it was overshadowed by something worse: Timm Klose had been stretchered off in the first half, and in the days that followed, it was confirmed that his season was over. It would be easy to dismiss the impact that Klose had, but this is Norwich, remember. The defense was effectively the same as from the Championship, but lacked stability against the tougher opponents of the Premier League. The back line lacked depth, organization, and leadership for much of the season, and just when it seemed that the solution had been found, he was gone for the season.

The stage was set to host Sunderland in what was undoubtedly the most important match of the season for both clubs. The winner would create an important gap between the two teams, and the loser would see their relegation odds increased substantially. Carrow Road was electrified with the nervous excitement of supporters, and there was no need for hyperbole: this one match probably going to decide the season. And perhaps fittingly, all of Norwich’s faults were on display as they crashed to a 3-0 defeat. The familiar impotent attack and costly defensive lapses had squandered yet another opportunity, and survival was now Sunderland’s to lose.

On the way to what seemed like anther routine relegation, a bizarre and sudden Twitter exchange foreshadowed what could be a larger impact on the club’s future direction than the relegation itself. After the uninspiring loss to Manchester United, the CEO of the football club, David McNally, responded to a critical tweet from a 17-year-old supporter by stating that he had resigned, only to be followed a few hours later with a tweet saying that he was not resigning. Supporters were abuzz with speculation of whether it was a hacked account or if it came directly from McNally himself. The next morning it was confirmed: David McNally had indeed stepped down from his post that he had occupied since 2009.

When he arrived, Norwich City were freshly relegated into League One for the first time, and the club’s finances were in disarray. The future of the club was very much in doubt, and McNally was a major reason for the reversal of fortunes. Primarily, he was responsible for hiring Paul Lambert, the manager that would guide Norwich to successive promotions and eventually back into the Premier League. During his tenure, he literally brought Norwich City Football Club from the brink of bankruptcy and into an era of financial stability. What he was unable to do, however, was to stabilize the club’s position in the richest league of them all. The football club is still majority-owned by cooking legend Delia Smith and her husband Michael Wynn-Jones, and while they have contributed much to the club as owners, their resources pale in comparison to the level of investment that most other clubs have been able to attract. The exact reasons for David McNally’s departure will never be known, but he does appear to be a product of Norwich’s dilemma in recent years of not having the resources available to invest to maintain their place in the Premier League. The dramatic rescue from the brink and rise back to the top seems to have run into a ceiling after seven years. The prompt appointment of a new CEO is vital to properly prepare for the next season in the Championship, but it will also reveal the direction that the club is heading as it enters a new era.

While Norwich would eventually pick up a win against a Watford team with nothing to play for, relegation was made official that same night as Sunderland dominated in their own match. But what would happen next was uplifting and poignant: knowing that relegation was certain, and the corporate future of the club was anything but, Norwich supporters created a festival-like atmosphere at Carrow Road as the last half of top flight football ticked away. They sung defiantly and jubilantly, and at a volume that cut through the television broadcast all of these kilometres away. It was, in a word, cathartic. It was a stripping away of all of the frustrations and disappointments of the past season, and reaffirmed that the support for this club doesn’t waiver when faced with a little problem like another relegation.


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