The 200% Pre-Season Previews: Norwich City
So, let’s get the obvious line out of the way first. That difficult second season. Buoyed by the adrenaline high of promotion into a new division, a team kicks on and exceeds the most apocalyptic of pre-season predictions. In the lower divisions, this might mean two successive promotions, but in the Premier League this usually means a mid-table finish of some description. With the summer comes a sinking feeling that everybody has got to go through it all again, and the second season sees the sunniness of the previous season give way as clubs that may have been unfamiliar with idioms of the previous year show them up as the imposters that they are, and might have been all along. Is there anything in this theory? Possibly. After all, it has happened frequently enough in the Premier League over the last ten years or so. Will this scenario apply to Norwich Citys prospects for the coming season, though? Possibly not.
In the unforgiving environment of the Premier League, one of the worst aspects of any degree of success is the recognition that comes with, and Norwich City perhaps paid the ultimate price for their mid-table finish last season when they lost manager Paul Lambert to Aston Villa before the club had even hardly had the chance to catch its breath. Of course, the best that any club can do in such a situation is make do and mend and Norwichs decision to hire Chris Hughton in his place seems like an astute appointment. Harshly treated by Newcastle United a couple of years ago, Hughton took charge of a psychologically fractured Birmingham City side last season, steadied the tiller and managed a respectable performance last season, even if he couldn’t quite do enough to get that club back into the Premier League at the first time of asking. Paul Lambert might have left but – and this is a point that is occasionally overlooked when assessing the damage caused by the departure of a manager – he hasn’t taken the other backroom staff with him, and his replacement is one that deserves another chance in the Premier League.
This season, however, is Hughton’s first big test. If Newcastle United and Birmingham City at the time of his managership both afforded him some slack as a result of what had happened prior to him taking their reins, there are few such excuses this time around. He won’t have a vast amount of money to spend, but this is a club that has carried about it a sunny disposition over the last couple of years or so and which will begin the new season with a realistic ambition of finishing clear of the relegation places again. Whilst the club might have lost Lambert, it did manage to retain the services of Grant Holt – a player who will be hoping not to suffer from a bout of second season syndrome himself – and another season demonstrating the same level of potency this time around would certainly bolster their chances of steering clear of the drop this time around. Elsewhere, the arrival of Robert Snodgrass seems like an astute signing for a club that remains by necessity close to its purse-strings whilst positive things have been said about Jacob Butterfield, who has signed from Barnsley and may prove to be one for the future.
So, while many will be fixated upon those bottom three places this season, it seems more likely that Norwich City will end up occupying at worst the space just above those positions. How the club would fare in a relegation struggle is anybodys guess, but there is no reason whatsoever why a reasonable start to the season shouldn’t be a precursor to nine months of mists and mellow fruitfulness at Carrow Road. And survival this season will carry an extra significance for the club, with a new television deal kicking in next summer which should go some way towards providing greater financial security for all of the clubs of the Premier League. A club that has been well-run over the last few years will already be well insulated against the financial costs of relegation, and Norwich’s activity in the transfer market has been cautious enough to indicate to suggest that the financial policy at Carrow Road is one of safety first.
The full of that extent of that second syndrome, however, may be overstated and there have been several clubs that have ascended into the Premier League in recent years – Fulham, Stoke City and Wigan Athletic, to name but three – and have managed to fashion themselves into regulars in the division. Why, Norwich supporters may well ask, shouldn’t their club be capable of doing the same? Each has ploughed its own furrow in its own way, and if Norwich City can tighten up their defence a little next season there is no reason why this syndrome about which we are hearing so much – perhaps with good reason, perhaps not – shouldn’t be defied. And should the club fail to survive next season in the Premier League, it may be worth recalling how far the club has come of late to get this far in the first place. It still feels scarcely credible that this was a club which started its solitary season in League One three years ago by shipping seven goals at home to Colchester United, and the intervening time between then and now has certainly been eventful. After the events of the recent past, a few months of relative peace and quiet might even be rather welcome for Norwich City this season.
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