Norwich City has had two fantastic years – but after promotion to the Premier League they face a very different sort of challenge. It’s only natural to look back to the last time the Canaries spent some time in the Premier League in the 2004/5 season. The club had just won the Division One title and in Nigel Worthington had a manager that appeared to be going places.
However, I think it’s fair to say that the board that was in charge at that time lacked the ambition and vision of a certain David McNally. And you always felt that the club were just happy to share the stage with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and similar high profiled clubs. This was really the first mistake – not feeling like they belonged. Well I think that this is something they have certainly learned from; David McNally has set out the plan to become an established self-sufficient Premier League club. It will be a tough task to stay in the Premier League, but this time around I am certain Paul Lambert will be given the tools to make that aim a reality.
The second big mistake that was in 2004/5 was the decision to let some big characters go. Nigel Worthington felt that Malky Mackay and Iwan Roberts were surplus to requirements in the Premier League. Now, Worthington may have felt that weren’t going to play many games – but he should have kept in mind the experience and influence they could have had in the team. Paul Lambert can be ruthless in getting rid of players when he needs to be – but I think he knows how important his characters will be. Grant Holt signed a new contract at the end of last season and I don’t think any key players from the Norwich City squad this season will be leaving.
The third mistake that was made was a combination of ambition and transfer policy. When going into the Premier League you simply must give yourself a chance and to have any sort of chance it’s vital to have both quality and depth to your squad. In the 2004/5 season some player were signed from abroad in the shape of Thomas Helveg and Matthias Johsnon; neither signing really worked out. There were other players signed but in general not enough money was spent on the squad initially. Other signings were Simon Charlton, Gary Doherty, Paul Gallacher, Yousseff Safri, Graham Stuart and Darren Ward – but just over £2m was spent on those signings. David Bentley also joined on a season long loan from Arsenal. In January, the board recognised the team needed a striker so splashed out £3m on Dean Ashton. Although, Ashton did well he really arrived too late to pull Norwich out of trouble; the club went down by just one point that season. And a lot of Norwich fans myself included felt that had Ashton been in place at the start of the season the club would have stayed up that season.
It’s a bit early to tell if these mistakes in the transfer market will be repeated – but I suspect they won’t be. And Paul Lambert has been promised the vast majority of the £40m promotion prize to strengthen the squad. Also the early signings and speculation suggest that strikers and attacking players will be high on the list of priorities. Once, Paul Lambert has the squad in place he needs to make sure we learn from the mistakes we made in our last spell in the Premier League – but also from teams last season.
Norwich must learn from the example of Blackpool in particular and it will be interesting to see how Paul Lambert adapts to life in the Premier League. Blackpool won many plaudits for their attacking brand of attacking football. But they weren’t able to close games out when they were in winning positions shown by the number of times they lost or drew games from comfortable winning positions.
Paul Lambert may decide to take a slightly different tact and know when it will be necessary to close games out and contain the opposition. But aside from that he must ensure his team knows how to defend. Blackpool conceded 78 goals in the league last season and any team that concedes that amount of goals must surely expect to be relegated. But with the exception of Blackpool; teams that generally struggle within or close to the relegation lacked a striker or midfield that can provide a decent return in terms of goals. West Ham recognized that in January – but just like the signing of Dean Ashton for Norwich in 2004/5 – it proved to be too little too late. Yes, Demba Ba did very well for West Ham but his goals arrived too late to save West Ham.
So if Norwich can learn from mistakes of their last spell in the Premier League and also the mistakes of teams from last season in the Premier League; they have one hell of a chance of maintain their place in the Premier League.