Norwich City: Championship winners to stick by same identity in Premier League

By James LawBBC Sport
Emi Buendia celebrates with the Championship trophy
Norwich finished the season 11 points clear of third-placed Leeds

"We've climbed Mount Everest, and right now we have to go back and try to climb it again."

That was the motivational message sporting director Stuart Webber gave Norwich head coach Daniel Farke shortly after confirming their promotion to the Premier League.

It sums up the Canaries well - a big club with top-flight pedigree, but whose financial challenges mean lifting the Championship title is quite some achievement.

Key figures at Carrow Road, including joint majority shareholder Delia Smith, tell BBC Sport how Norwich may not have reached their peak despite hitting the summit.

'We broke so many rules'

The old stereotype went that to be successful in the Championship you needed hardened players with experience of the division - but that would cost money the Norfolk side no longer had.

The imminent loss of parachute payments from their costly 2015-16 relegation campaign dictated a change in recruitment strategy, with Webber brought in for his expertise in finding little-known continental signings and faith in young players.

"If you have a team of old men, in my opinion you don't get promoted [to the Premier League] unless you're special like Neil Warnock," Webber said.

That explains why some of Norwich's seasoned campaigners left, while younger players including Alex Pritchard, Josh Murphy and James Maddison were sold for a combined fee of more than £40m.

While a 14th-placed finish last season drew some criticism from the fanbase, those inside the club could sense they were building towards something special.

"It [promotion] was not so much unexpected for me, because I knew what was happening here 18 months ago was going to get somewhere," celebrity cook Smith told BBC Sport.

"I would just describe Stuart Webber with one word: genius. I think he's amazing and we're extremely lucky."

Delia Smith celebrates Norwich winning the Championship title
Delia Smith and husband Michael Wynn-Jones have overseen four promotions to the Premier League with Norwich

Smith has been on the Canaries' board of directors for 23 years alongside husband Michael Wynn-Jones and said the club was "unrecognisable" compared with how it was when Webber joined from Huddersfield in April 2017.

Farke was appointed by the Welshman a month later and reinforced the new Norwich model which went against the grain, making academy graduates Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis, Ben Godfrey and Todd Cantwell an integral part of his side.

"The perception was always you need experience and to spend lots of money for quality in this league, and with beautiful football you can't win games - we broke so many rules during the season," said Farke.

To illustrate the rebellion, Norwich's 29-goal top scorer Teemu Pukki was signed on a free transfer last summer, with the Finland striker crediting the thoroughness of Farke and Webber for getting him to East Anglia.

"When I first heard about Norwich, I was not sure about it - I thought the Championship was still in the old ways, long balls and a lot of fighting," said Pukki.

"But when I talked with Stuart and the coach they explained how we want to play football and how I'd fit in the system.

"They knew me from way back from my time in Germany as well. That was something important to me and they also did some homework on how I am as a person, and that I would fit perfectly into this squad."

Going about business quietly

As Norfolk's only professional club, Norwich find themselves in a goldfish bowl, and attract the kind of regional scrutiny you might associate with a Premier League side.

However, on a national level, their charge to the Championship title went somewhat under the radar until promotion was within touching distance.

"We've not taken too much notice, but all I hear about is Frank Lampard's Derby, Leeds United - because it's Leeds United - Aston Villa and Chris Wilder's Sheffield United, because of the amazing job that he's done there," Webber said.

"If we've not had that, we're not overly worried or concerned - we'd rather be in the background and not getting the attention because we just want to do our jobs, go home and hopefully do it well."

It is a feeling echoed by Smith, at a club which does not go in search of headlines.

"Hard work and humility have got us promoted - we're just heads down, work hard, stay humble and keep a low profile if you can," she said.

Canaries' promotion made in West Yorkshire?

Daniel Farke (left) and Stuart Webber
Webber (right) appointed Farke less than two months after becoming Norwich's first sporting director

Comparisons have been made between the Canaries' climb and that of Huddersfield, who Webber also helped reach the top flight in 2016-17.

There he appointed another Borussia Dortmund II boss in David Wagner, with player recruitment taking on a similar German theme - Elias Kachunga, Chris Lowe and Christopher Schindler signed at Huddersfield, with Onel Hernandez, Marco Stiepermann and Christoph Zimmerman among those brought in at Norwich.

But Webber insists they were different projects.

"When I stepped in the door here and we were going to do something similar, I knew straight away I'd get hammered - 'he's just done what he's done before', 'he's trying to copy it', because that's what happens," said Webber.

"It's been a lot more difficult here because of the lazy comparison - it's been done under a much bigger scope and everyone thinking 'is it possible to do it twice?'"

Farke says a difference in stature between the two clubs means their achievements cannot be compared.

"Huddersfield were more in an underdog role and they were already happy playing in the Championship. They started, in the eyes of many people, to overachieve," the German added.

"For us, we are still an unbelievably big club with many years in the Premier League and some big history playing in Europe - even in Germany, all the people know Norwich City for beating Bayern Munich."

Can Norwich scale another mountain?

Norwich prioritised big spending on transfer fees and player wages during previous forays into the Premier League, rather than making significant improvements to their infrastructure.

This contributed to their financial downfall upon relegation, with Farke and Webber determined not to make the same mistakes this time.

"Right now most of our key players are under contract and it's not as if we need to sign 15 new players or do an unbelievable amount of business," said the head coach.

"We can't stay in the Premier League just with individual quality and signing unbelievably expensive players. We have to stay in the Premier League with our identity, philosophy, work ethic and principles and we will 100% stick to our plans."

But how much longer will Webber, 35, remain at Carrow Road? The sporting director may find himself more in demand than any of Norwich's players, and has spoken of an ambition to work abroad at some stage.

"Stuart is still young in age but working on a top-class level, and I'm pretty sure one day he will either lead this club to unbelievable success or work for the best clubs in the world," Farke added.

Webber said: "Who knows when that opportunity will come? But at the same time I've done nothing here yet, this is just the start.

"We will have the smallest budget in the league - we will spend the least money - I can guarantee that now."

The Canaries lack top-flight know-how and are unlikely to add much this summer, but they have proven there is nothing wrong with a bit of naivety.

Top Stories