We are Norwich City – and none of this makes any sense
Eyes wandering to the fixture list at any free moment. Constantly-changing calculations about when promotion can be sealed. Your nails are getting shorter. You haven’t won in two matches, but it’s fine. It’s fine, isn’t it?
It is fine. All you can think about is the prospect of a city uniting for the success of their football club.
Given the cruel unpredictability of the Championship, though, the finish line still feels like miles away even when it finally becomes visible. Norwich City have become the dominant force in the division – but we’re not there yet.
Our most significant aspirations have been Premier League involvement in recent seasons – and it was only three seasons ago since we were last there – but up until recently, such football was beyond the realms of possibility.
Rewind two years, and the situation is very different. Back then, Norwich were like a teenager: confused and seeking an identity. Such a process requires patience and attention, but it’s been one that has tested fans’ resolve.
Norwich were last relegated in 2015/16. Once the parachute payments dried up, income dropped significantly from approximately £28m to £8m, leaving a £20m gap to plug – not ideal when you’re a self-funding football club without a wealthy benefactor.
Sporting director Stuart Webber and manager Daniel Farke couldn’t reveal the extent of the problems, but it was well known in these parts that changes would have to be made as the club teetered on a financial cliff edge.
Thank god, then, for James Maddison. Before Farke’s arrival the midfielder had been unfavoured by Alex Neil and Alan Irvine, and was sent on loan to Aberdeen for first-team minutes. Farke set about building his side around the creative midfielder upon his return, however – and then watched him flourish.
Fourteen goals and eight assists later, Norwich had the money from Leicester that they required to avoid a financial crisis. Josh Murphy’s £11m move to Cardiff further boosted the coffers, but the Canaries knew they’d have to do things differently from here on in.
And so, against that backdrop of limited expectations, financial insecurity and the sales of key protagonists, Norwich have somehow grown and sit seven points clear of third place with four matches remaining.
Farke will get the plaudits, and rightly so – his work has transformed the club’s fortunes. The German tactician has turned no-hopers into league leaders, promoting an expressive and thrilling style of football that’s sent his side soaring to the summit.
Recruitment has been astute, too; Norwich have gone fishing in markets where others aren’t even dipping their toes. Head honcho Webber has built a bridge between the youth academy and first team, and his main principle has been about rewarding talent and hard work with opportunity.
Instead of watching an experienced team underperform, fans at Carrow Road have watched this side blossom into a cohesive, efficient outfit that has dominated games and entertained along the way. Six sides have conceded fewer goals this term, but none have netted more at the other end. Norwich have lost at least three fewer matches than anyone else.
Look, a unicorn!
Really, none of this makes sense. Norwich are arguably playing the most aesthetically-pleasing brand of football in the club’s history, but doing so with a limited budget and academy prospects. They are a unicorn, particularly so in a Championship awash with fallen clubs clinging on to parachute payments and experienced heads.
But as if we didn’t need reminding already, money only gets you so far in this division. Norwich’s team features an eclectic blend of nationalities and abilities, but all want to prove people wrong. Players like Moritz Leitner, Marco Stiepermann and Tom Trybull arrived as damaged goods, but Farke was willing to take a chance on them.
Teemu Pukki, previously frowned upon in England because he flopped at Celtic, was given a chance in Norfolk. Now he’s a 27-goal striker and the Championship’s player of the season.
As a supporter, seeing these components form a ruthless, promotion-winning team has been beyond anything any of us could imagine. The ball is rolling, momentum is behind us – and this project is accelerating towards the Premier League.
So can it all be over now, please?