Norwich City sporting director Stuart Webber gave a 33-minute interview to the club’s own media channels discussing the 2021-22 season and steps for the future. Samuel Seaman delivers his verdict.
1. A poor assessment of fans’ belief
One of the statements that’s come under most scrutiny is Webber’s assertion that “fans gave up quickly”.
Weekly sell-outs, great numbers of away support and debate over whether City would improve without Daniel Farke suggest otherwise, and many supporters feel that this was another dig in a long line of subtle criticisms in recent interviews by the Welshman.
There may have been negativity, but quite what Webber was expecting when a run of six straight league defeats started the season, only to be halted by a point at now-relegated Burnley, remains unclear.
Webber did commend the commitment of Norwich fans later on, but in an interview where he spoke regularly about the importance of togetherness, criticising an already disillusioned fanbase didn’t seem wise.
2. Was last summer’s recruitment ‘alright’?
“I think it was alright.”
That was Webber’s verdict on his recruitment in the summer of 2021, when more than £50million was spent on players who between them scored five Premier League goals, made seven assists and improved the Norwich squad very little.
His reasoning was that “what people forget is that we have to spread our money a lot,” and that his hand was forced by Emi Buendia “making it very clear that he wouldn’t be here.”
To address the first point, there is clearly a happy medium between spending £50million on one player and spreading it across 11.
Where sides such as Brentford spent good chunks on high-quality players – namely City target Kristoffer Ajer – Webber opted to undertake a squad overhaul immediately following the breaking of his club’s points record.
That wasn’t a strategy decided by Buendia’s position, either. While Webber truthfully states that the Argentinian requested to leave at the end of the 2020-21 campaign, his departure was of mutual benefit and, even before their post-season meeting, the Canaries backed themselves to rebuild with the funds generated – this was the plan.
The results of that plan were laid bare for all to see. One glance at the Premier League table is enough, and in an interview lacking an admittance of accountability, surely this was the perfect opportunity to make one.
3. Looking to the future with Farke’s departure
Perhaps the most open section of the video was the discussion around former City head coach Daniel Farke’s departure.
Webber went into detail on his decision to part ways with the German, a process he likened to “hurting a family member”. “Part of the decision was looking beyond this season,” he said, and it stood to reason. “If the worse thing happens this year, can we be better next time in the Premier League?”
Farke’s Premier League record was not good enough, that’s undeniable. 32 points and six wins in 49 games is relegation form at any time, and with the long-term goal of top flight stability in mind the sporting director’s decision is understandable.
In this case the interview gave a platform for a key decision to be explained in greater detail, and in this way it served its purpose.
4. Doubling down on that Everest interview
One of the main reasons why Webber had faced so much criticism was an interview with a national newspaper, in which he said: “If 90% of me isn’t enough it’s fine, because I’m already ready to walk out the door. I’m ready for the next stage of my life.”
The first four of those words have caused great controversy but, given the chance to clarify his position, the City sporting director simply sought to fight his side.
“What people really want me to say is: ‘I don’t sleep at night, all I do is work’,” he said. “The reality is my commitment has always been 100%. The difference is, I’ve asked: ‘If you want me to stay, can I maybe have 10% of my life back?’ If people aren’t happy with that I genuinely don’t care, and I’m not going to apologise for that.”
Norwich fans may have hoped for a different answer, but Webber gave the one all were expecting. In the midst of some other key topics this one has gone under the radar and appears a closed matter, but nothing has been done to stop this particular criticism returning when the dust settles.
5. Not a lot in the transfer kitty
Already the pressure is being piled on the City recruitment team this summer. After such a woeful attempt in 2021, quality additions will be needed for a promotion push, but affording those will be harder than first feared.
Webber’s revelation that the Canaries “don’t have a lot of money” will have worried supporters hoping for an overhaul, even if the best transfer work of recent times has been done on tight budgets.
What that means is that beyond “a couple of things,” Norwich may need to sell in order to buy. Webber did state that there would be Premier League interest in his players, but which of those depart will have a big say in the mood around Carrow Road.