Safety is not guaranteed

Premier League football. Big money, fast cars, huge stars. Then there’s Norwich City. Provincial club in the east of England, lacking the finances, lacking the glamour of it’s new found plush surroundings, do we really belong here? It’s a dangerous place where ambition can get the better of you. Safety is not guaranteed.

Whenever you find yourself somewhere you’re not sure you should be, it’s a good plan to exercise caution. Keep your head down, don’t do anything to embarrass yourself. Sadly Norwich have been embarrassed a couple of times this season, home and away against Liverpool and away on opening day against Fulham. Norwich can’t afford stars, so is it any surprise that defensive solidarity is the survival plan?

The Premier League is really hard, it takes no prisoners. You need weapons, some teams splash the cash to acquire the big guns, £12.5 million for a Christopher Samba shaped battering-ram is a case in point or perhaps £15-20+ million on a legion of Frenchmen. The money spent is a gamble, an attempt to battle to survival and salvation through a muddy torrent of excrement to enjoy another season at the top table of English football. Norwich are feeding off scraps, they have to take a different approach, work harder, box clever, fight for every point.

Like so many things, Premier League football appears more attractive when you can’t have it. Looking in from the outside at Match of the Day as you sit waiting for your team to appear on The Football League Show is demoralising. Promotion is an exuberant burst of intense pleasure at the end of a hard Championship slog, but the next day the reality dawns “how are we going to stay up?”. It’s not an easy question to answer. Paul Lambert found a way, he reinvented the Norwich City side time and again, twisting and shaping them into a different challenge for the opposition to overcome game after game. Carried forward on a wave of energy, spurred on by the momentum of coming from League One, in the face of this challenge the team’s belief never wavered, but there was never a fight to survive.

A young child of the Premier League, Norwich knew no fear. But now in the depths of the second season they are starting to understand. Now suddenly it’s hard. The euphoria is gone, the fans are restless. Drab and dour games pass by at Carrow Road as the team slowly accumulates points. It was all so different not so long ago, the wins were flowing and the team were flying but we all know how quickly football can change, now we are seeing the ugly side of the game.

Some fans blame Chris Hughton, but he didn’t make the game ugly, he simply understands what is required right now. Fans demand attacking play, they want goals, but how short their memories are. Conceding five goals is easy in this league, tougher this season than last. When it’s a battle, you battle. Heads have been turned, the January rumour window has added to the unease. It’s a seductive temptress, flirting with our better nature. Linking us with names we cannot afford. Daring us to dream of the big signing, who can give us what we all desire, safety, taking us away from the reality of relegation.

A manager can’t afford to be drawn into such delirium. They must remain rooted and pragmatic. The gambles are so much harder for them because they are responsible for the consequences. Too often from the stands people forget the difficulty of the job as they second guess every decision. Imagine having to justify yourself to 26,000 people a lot of whom think they know better than you. A group of people generally lacking empathy with unrealistic expectations. Think of the ramifications of a brutal battering. Think of the team’s moral, the player’s confidence, having to look them in the eye after the game. Having to convince them at the training ground that they can survive relegation, that they are good enough for this level, for this league. Then and only then should you dare utter words about a more attacking formation, about a different approach.

Premier League football. Big money, fast cars, huge stars. Then there’s Norwich City. Provincial club in the east of England, lacking the finances, lacking the glamour of it’s new found plush surroundings, do we really belong here? It’s a dangerous place where ambition can get the better of you. Safety is not guaranteed.

 

 

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