MARTIN SAMUEL: Norwich are being rewarded for a failure of imagination

MARTIN SAMUEL COLUMN: Norwich are being rewarded for an utter failure of imagination… the clamour to reshape their relegation as a noble triumph is no great surprise

  • Norwich have gone down sticking to their principles but were absolutely useless 
  • The clamour to shape their relegation as a noble triumph comes as no surprise 
  • They should not be compensated for an outcome they made close to inevitable 
  • But the club are instead being rewarded for their utter failure of imagination 

As predicted, Norwich went down to cheers and bunting. Sticking to their principles, a £16million profit, sensible, sound financial health – and useless, of course. Absolutely useless.

As insipid a performance as in 2005 when, on a final day when no relegation places had yet been decided, Norwich ensured they occupied one by losing 6-0 at Fulham.

No West Ham player had scored four goals in a game since David Cross against Tottenham in 1981, but Michail Antonio managed it at Carrow Road and he isn’t even a recognised striker.

Norwich suffered relegation sticking to their principles but they were absolutely useless

He did, however, cost money – £7m from Nottingham Forest in 2015, which is substantially more than Norwich spent to stay in the Premier League.

So it was no great surprise, this denouement. Nor the clamour to reshape Norwich’s departure as a noble triumph. For those who view football as an aerobic form of accountancy, Norwich are the perfect club.

Now they will be rewarded again, with a £40m parachute payment to guard against the drop to Championship revenue.

What a waste of money. Why are Norwich being compensated for an outcome they made close to inevitable?

Give it to Aston Villa if they go down. At least they had a go. That is what the parachute payments are for. They are have-a-go money. They’re a free bet.

If a bookmaker gives you a free bet, don’t put in on the even money shot to win a fiver. Conjure up a six-way accumulator and try to get that Ferrari. It’s free. Have some fun.

The clamour to shape the club’s relegation as a noble triumph comes as no great surprise

And that’s what the parachute payment is: £40m a club can spend because, whatever happens, they’re going to get it back. It’s designed to create competition. And Norwich did not spend it. They were not competitive.

If Norwich do not pick up another three points from matches against Chelsea, Burnley and Manchester City, they will be in the worst six teams in Premier League history: 555th of 560.

That’s not principled, that’s not admirable – that’s an utter failure of imagination.

The counter-argument is that Aston Villa spent £143m and could still go down. Fulham spent £100m and were relegated in 2018-19.

All true. But this presumes every investment goes bad. Sheffield United came up with Norwich, spent £60m, and may qualify for Europe. If that had gone wrong for them, two-thirds of it would have been recouped via parachute payments.

Even Aston Villa would get roughly 28 per cent back that way, plus money from the inevitable sales of Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings.

So for Norwich to end up in substantial profit, and relegated, where is the triumph in that? They are better placed for life in the Championship? Says who? Parachute payments offer no guarantees as far as the football goes.

If they don’t pick up three more points they will be in the worst six teams in the league’s history

Last season’s relegated clubs are currently fourth, sixth and 20th in the second tier. Those who went down the year before are second, seventh and 17th. 

It’s a hard scrabble league – Norwich manager Daniel Farke reckons it is the toughest in Europe. The parachute payments are there to help clubs steer clear of it.

Indeed, given that the Championship play-off final is regularly described as the most lucrative game in football, why is there so much snobbery about investment?

Huddersfield, who in 2019 finished where Norwich almost certainly will this year, received £96.62m in their last Premier League season. Their commercial revenue will have been enhanced, too. Estimates of the value of promotion reach as much as £170m. Yet let’s be conservative, and cap it at £100m. Norwich lost £38m last year, so pay that debt off. Then they invested £25m on improvements at the training ground.

This still leaves £37m. And while wages and expenses must be paid, much of that will be covered by commercial and matchday revenue streams.

So it isn’t that Norwich couldn’t afford to mount a stronger campaign, it is that they chose not to. And shopping in the basement brings its own difficulties.

Norwich took three players on loan, and three went back to their parent clubs early. Farke said Ondrej Duda from Hertha Berlin was a £25m player, but he is yet to score or assist a goal.

Norwich manager Daniel Farke reckons the Championship is the toughest league in Europe

You don’t always get what you pay for in football, but you certainly get what you don’t pay for. Farke said that without investment, Norwich had a five per cent chance of surviving, and he overestimated.

Since relegation, Norwich’s fans have been encouraged to remember the good times. Most specifically, September 14, 2019, when they beat Manchester City 3-2. Yet anyone can have a good day against Manchester City.

Wolves did, home and away this season, Southampton did, earlier this month. Crystal Palace, Leicester, Newcastle, even Wigan – they’ve all had good days against Manchester City in recent years. Yet taking pride in one game, one brilliant 90 minutes, isn’t resolve or resistance. That’s a cup run masquerading.

Whoever goes down this season will deserve their demotion, but in most cases will have fought all the way. Not on the pitch necessarily, but off it. They will have invested, but not smartly. They will have strategised, but not well. They will have made mistake after mistake after mistake. But at least they tried.

At least they didn’t miserably cash in their free bet.

SORRY SPURS, YOU’RE DELUDED

There never was a fly-past protest from disaffected Tottenham supporters during Sunday’s north London derby. Yet for those who love to laugh, we’ll always have the statement. It came from those trying to raise the money for a banner reading: ‘ENIC and Levy out now’.

Here’s an excerpt: ‘…from being in a Champions League final, nearly on a par with Liverpool, we are 10 steps back again…’ Isn’t that ‘nearly’ delightful?  

Here’s how ‘near’ to Liverpool Tottenham actually were last season. 

Liverpool’s points total was 97, Tottenham’s was 71. Liverpool lost one match, away to the champions Manchester City, Tottenham lost 13 to Watford, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Wolves, Manchester United, Burnley, Chelsea, Southampton, Liverpool again, Manchester City again, West Ham and Bournemouth. Liverpool scored 89 goals, Tottenham 67. Liverpool conceded 22 goals, Tottenham 39. Liverpool’s goal difference was +67, Tottenham’s +28. 

There never was a fly-past protest from Tottenham fans during Sunday’s north London derby

And most significantly, Liverpool and Tottenham met three times last season and Liverpool won every game: 2-1, 2-1 and 2-0. Getting to a cup final isn’t being near to the opposition. Wigan were not near to Manchester City when they beat them to the 2013 FA Cup. City came second that season and Wigan were relegated. 

The league table is the true comparative indicator and it shows Tottenham were 26 points adrift of Liverpool, couldn’t beat them, and were inferior in every recognised evaluator – goals for, goals against, goal difference.

That Tottenham supporters even think their club bears comparison to the champions of Europe and one of the greatest title-winning teams this country has ever seen shows how far they have come under Daniel Levy. 

He doesn’t get every decision right, but he has built a quite magnificent stadium and made Tottenham a force. No, they’re not Liverpool. But since 1960-61, when were they?

PENNY FOR PALACE’S THOUGHTS ON POINTS PER GAME NOW 

Having embarked on a run of five straight defeats, failing to score in four of them – and with Manchester United up next – it would be interesting to hear Crystal Palace’s views now on relegation by points per game.

Back when football was locked down, the six clubs at the bottom found no support for the idea relegation shouldn’t be decided by random mathematical calculation.

Comfortable mid-table clubs like Palace, who had nothing to lose, were very bullish about the restart and relegation being part of it – even if the season could not be completed. Ultimately, a vote on the issue was never taken because the Premier League feared it would be too divisive.

Yet, with Covid-19 very much still with us, it would be negligent not to have a process in place to deal with any future curtailment. Would Palace – or Burnley, Sheffield United, Southampton, even Leicester – be bold enough to vote for PPG when it could now be their club that falls by simple arithmetic with the season incomplete? If put to the test before the next campaign, the vote might be rather different.

JOSE HAS CHOSEN A REALISTIC TARGET

It may sound like Jose Mourinho is whistling to keep his spirits up, but given that qualifying for the Champions League was always a long shot this season – Tottenham were 14th when he took over – he is right in saying Europa League qualification is far from the worst option. 

This is a club that has not won a trophy since 2008 and UEFA’s second tier competition is very winnable if a good team takes it seriously. 

Mourinho has played in it twice and won twice. He will regard it as important, too, unlike a lot of coaches. 

Jose Mourinho was right in saying Europa League qualification is far from the worst option

For all we know, the parents of the 12-year-old Aston Villa fan arrested for the racist abuse of Wilfried Zaha are lovely, charming people who support the cause of racial equality, have attended several Black Lives Matter protests and are sitting at home appalled at the shame junior has brought on their family. 

One imagines though, that a boy born in 2008 who uses such outdated racial epithets as c**n, and posts pictures of a largely historic and foreign white supremacist organisation such as the Ku Klux Klan, is getting his knowledge from somewhere. 

Not home, necessarily. But 12-year-olds don’t tend to be familiar with c**ns and the KKK unless informed. It is not just one little boy who is in dire need of further education here.

NICE GUY FRANK IS TOUGH AS NAILS 

Frank Lampard is seen by many as a good company man – polite, educated, a fine representative. He is all of those things. Those who know him, and his father too, will also say he is tough as nails and as dark and ruthless as a gangland boss. 

Put his words after the Sheffield United defeat – ‘I learnt a lot today, I learnt a lot that I won’t forget’ – into the mouth of a character played by Ray Winstone and you get the idea. There are a few Chelsea players who won’t be coming back from Bramall Lane.

Those who know Frank Lampard will say he is tough as nails and as ruthless as a gangland boss

British Lions stalwart John Spencer is right. When Premiership Rugby were asked to play a single round of fixtures in midweek to give the Lions an extra week of training prior to the tours of Australia and New Zealand, the request was refused on the grounds of player welfare. 

No matter that December was targeted as the period when compromise could be achieved, it was a no-go. Now the club game is in the grip of financial crisis, the Premiership’s answer is seven matches in 28 days and player welfare be damned. Money talks and b******t walks, as the saying goes – unlike most players after that schedule, one imagines.

Putting aside the debate around recalling Stuart Broad for one moment, the bigger controversy in the second Test would be if Joe Denly is preferred to Zak Crawley. One is a young, improving top order batsman who has responded relatively well to any challenge thrown at him, the other is 34 and has played 15 Tests without reaching three figures. 

Denly’s numbers are poor also – eight innings without reaching 40, an average of under 30 and dismissed between 10 and 39 on 18 occasions. If long-term planning was behind Broad’s exclusion it should be used to make Crawley’s case, too.

It will be highly controversial in England’s second Test if Joe Denly is preferred to Zak Crawley

With the savings from a timely investment in insurance, Wimbledon will pay out £10m in prize money to those deprived of a tilt at their title this summer. Players in the main singles draw will split £25,000 each, those who would have made qualifying will get £12,500 and doubles participants £6,250. 

Nothing to those at the very top of the game, but a wonderful lifeline to players further down the rankings. Displaying foresight and generosity – over £1m donated to charities, too – the All England Club have had what might be termed an exceptionally good virus.

A ridiculous row has broken out around the parliamentary football team, in a power struggle between MPs Karl McCartney (Conservative, Lincoln) and Clive Betts (Labour, Sheffield South East). 

It appears McCartney has seized the chairman and captain’s role and Labour are not happy. The party’s politicians are threatening to withhold participation – which would fold the team as its continued existence requires at least one Labour member – while McCartney is threatening to sue over ‘false and inaccurate statements that are damaging and actionable’. 

Given that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee is fond of calling sports’ administrators in to be questioned on matters of governance, this is a wonderful irony. 

How would these clowns control 92 clubs when they can’t even handle one?




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