How safe are Daniel Farke and Dean Smith as the panic sets in?

Stephen Tudor by Stephen Tudor / 21 November 2019, 07:40

With no small justification, Norwich City have been widely praised in recent times for doing things ‘the right way’.

This abstract feat for the Canaries consists of recruiting a progressive coach in Daniel Farke and allowing him sufficient time to implement a brave, attacking style of football. It was a mandate that eventually reaped huge dividends.

In the German’s first season in East Anglia his team endured two separate six-week spells in the Championship with not a win to be seen and they ultimately finished very unsure of themselves in mid-table.

Yet the board kept their nerve that summer and we all know what happened next as Farke – along with Norwich’s Sporting Director Stuart Webber – targeted barely known gems in Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki and in the months that followed they surprised all and sundry by playing exhilarating and adventurous fare that saw them crowned as champions.

It could be said in hindsight that Norwich’s promotion to the top flight was a victory for pragmatism and patience; a reward for investing in a coach and entrusting wholly in his vision and that approach still evidently holds sway at present even as the defence is being picked apart on a weekly basis and the adventure swiftly turns into a nightmare.

With Farke’s open philosophy being directly blamed for such heavy concessions – should they continue to haemorrhage 2.3 goals per game they will equal Derby’s miserable tally in 2008 – it has led to accusations of ‘stubbornness’ and ‘naivety’ on the coach’s part and with Norwich propping up the Premier League table you could reasonably expect some pressure to be placed on his role.

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Yet you would have to go a long, long way to find a Norwich supporter willing Farke's departure while the club remain stoically and loyally silent.

They are backing their man, just as they did in 2017/18 and it can be deduced that bigger names elsewhere doing better jobs are more at risk of the axe.

The reason for this leads us to a stereotyping of a club’s DNA for Norwich have always taken great pride in being a sensibly run outfit: a family club with values. Not for them the thrashing about and knee-jerk dramas that so undermine others.

Theirs is a model of ethics and judicious planning.

There is a problem with this however and it is a considerable one. Because while it is incontestable that the Canaries are a likeable club imbued with traditional principles – their superb work in the community being a case in point – the modern world with its sizable fortunes at stake have largely rendered such values obsolete.

And we only need look at Norwich’s track record in dispensing with their managers when reality bites to illustrate this.

The average amount of time a coach is given in the top two divisions is a little over two years. In the Premier League era Norwich City have changed their man in the dug-out every 1.6 years (and that includes a lengthy six-year spell for Nigel Worthington).

In regularly veering from promotion to relegation Norwich have often forgotten who they are and what they hold dear. Pressing the panic button is not unknown for them. 

Aston Villa could hardly call themselves a sensibly run outfit and God love them for that.

There is no ‘family club’ tag for them but rather a ‘big club’ expectation and from that burden has resulted the kind of knee-jerk dramas their East Anglian counterparts supposedly shy from.

Remember the ludicrous appointment of Remi Garde? What about the disastrously short stint of Tim Sherwood?

In 2016/17 so desperate were the Villans to immediately bounce back after being relegated to the Championship they bought and moved on 29 players at a cost that brought moisture to the eyes. 

In Dean Smith however they have finally stumbled upon an individual who has ushered in belief and an even keel to the Midlands.

Smith is a boyhood Villa fan and with local superstar Jack Grealish pulling the strings on the pitch there is now a positive connection to the Holte End that has not been experienced for some time. Factor in too the wild celebrations that accompanied their Play-Off success last May and there is a togetherness that has the club in good stead. 

Yet again circumstances threaten to override such sentiment because in the cold light of day Aston Villa cannot afford – literally and figuratively – to lose their freshly discovered Premier League status and with languishing in 17th after losing seven from their opening 12 games that is already a distinct possibility.

It would be a deeply unpopular decision to jettison Smith at this juncture. Yet economics could still demand it.

In the past decade 22 Premier League managers have lost their jobs between now and Christmas and the reasoning behind this high figure is threefold, all interconnected.

Firstly, it becomes painfully clear as winter takes hold that this is no mere blip and a campaign of prolonged struggle seems certain.

Secondly, a change in personnel at this point affords the new man time to turn things around and more so, actively seek out his preferred choices in the January transfer window.

Then there is the panic, the monumental panic as chairmen weigh up exactly what is at jeopardy should the poor returns continue. No manager is immune from that, no matter how popular. And no club too, even those, like Norwich and Villa, with the best of intentions.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Russ Wilcox
Russ Wilcox
(Scunthorpe United)
7th August
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