Stuart Webber: Collapse of the Canaries not all it seems
Written by Simon Austin — July 13, 2020
IN February last year, we carried an interview with Norwich City Sporting Director Stuart Webber that turned out to be one of our most popular of the year.
At the time, the Welshman’s stock was high: following a ruthless restructuring that he had instigated, the Canaries were top of the Championship and he was being linked with a move to Manchester United.
Now, things seem very different. Norwich were relegated from the top flight last weekend with three games still to go and Webber said he was the one who should take the blame.
During a press conference at the club's training ground yesterday, the Norwich supremo was as honest and engaging as ever in reflecting on a disappointing season.
He insisted that the club had gone into this season with their eyes wide open - and that they would come back stronger than ever next time.
Responsibility rests with me
Stuart Webber: I appreciate that the supporters want someone to blame. What I’d ask is blame me, no problem. I’m in charge of the football strategy, I make the calls.
Every player here, I’ve either signed or given a new contract to. Every member of staff, the same. If you want a scapegoat, then you’re looking at him. I’ve got no problem with that.
It’s never nice when you get relegated, but what’s important now is that we don’t dwell on it. We haven’t got time to cry; no-one’s died here. What’s happened is that reality’s hit. We got relegated from a league we should have got relegated from.
We’ve gone to war without a gun and, guess what, we got shot. Now what we need is to make sure that if we ever get the opportunity to get back, we’re fully armed and ready to fight back.
The man in the glass
Covid came and on a personal level I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and look back. And I’ll be honest, I got it badly wrong. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to admit that.
What we got badly wrong was that we didn't really improve the squad. Should we have done nothing, literally? Because we’d probably be no worse off.
Look at the other two teams that were promoted - one (Aston Villa) spent £100m and the other (Sheffield United) spent £60, £70m. We can’t compete with that. We couldn’t compete with Sheff United for Callum Robinson.
What that time has done is let me get my head round it, so that when the inevitable came and we were relegated, I didn’t have to sit sulking or crying or lying on the football pitch hoping someone would take a photo of me. It happened, let’s gone on with it.
I read so many books over the break. One was Eddie Jones’ autobiography. Everyone in my sort of position should read that. He talked about a poem called 'The Man in the Glass'. Put it in YouTube, because everyone should read or listen to that, from any walk of life.
The man in the glass is the most important thing, because it’s you. When you can look at yourself and be really honest, that’s the most important thing, because that’s where you find the answers. I’ve done a lot of that.
Difference between the Premier League and Championship
We weren’t good enough and at this level it comes down to quality. The Championship is full of success stories not based on pure quality. That's not the case in the Premier League.
And that comes down to me, because I built that squad over three years. I have to make sure we learn from this and do it better. The only way we’ll find out if we have learned is if we get another chance. If we do the same things, then I deserve to be hung up.
It wasn't fitness, because we’ve pretty much out-run 90% of the teams we’ve played. But every team we’ve played has been bigger than us - and the pace in the league is unbelievable.
Every team has three or four Michail Antonios. They have the ability to turn their engine up for the last qualifying run and you’re like: 'Wow, what’s just happened?’
Then the mental strain of the Premier League is unbelievable. You don’t realise how irrelevant you are in the Championship until you get in the Premier League. Everyone has an opinion every single day and that scrutiny can eat you alive.
We weren't resigned to it; the mentality wasn’t: 'We’re here to enjoy the ride.' But we were realistic and able to plan for it. We’ve got our heads round it and have a plan to make sure we’re better next time.
Falling over the cliff edge
The cliff edge is incredible, but we went into that with our eyes open. Hence, when we did every new contact last year, the one non-negotiable was what your salary will be if we get relegated.
That’s the bit which kills clubs and it almost killed our club (in 2015/16). That was the bit that meant we had to sell top young talents like James Maddison and the Murphy brothers (Josh and Jacob), just to make sure we could pay the wage bill in August, not to get better.
That’s because we got relegated and had players on over £40k a week, which is completely unsustainable for a club that doesn’t have a backer above it.
We had to make sure we didn’t die when we went off that cliff edge and could brush ourselves off and go again. Let’s look at Sunderland and Wigan and Ipswich: teams that really struggled with the impact of relegation.
We haven’t got an owner who can cover that cost. If we’d spent a lot of money and it goes wrong then that's the club in a lot of trouble financially. It’s been proven in the last couple of years that you can spend £100m really badly in the Premier League.
If we look at our wage bill now, compared to when we got relegated last time, it’s half. Our highest earner in the Championship next season - we had 12 players earning more than that before.
We’ve tried to do it in a way that can become sustainable.
The Man in the Glass
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
Dale Wimbrow, 1934
Taking inspiration from Burnley
We’ve got to look at clubs like Burnley for inspiration and how they’ve done it, because they’re the closest model to us. They went down (in 2014/15), stuck to it, didn’t cry and thought: ‘We’ll come back stronger and try and stay.’
Six, seven years later they’re competing in the top half of the Premier League every year.
But even then, Mr Dyche will say: ‘We need more money, because he knows how hard that is at that level without being able to buy genuine quality. It’s tough, but it’s our model.’
We’ve just had our highest league finish since I’ve been here. Ultimately, if the objective was solely to stay in the league, then we should have risked the club’s future and spent money we don’t have, just like the government do.
I don’t make any apologies for not doing that though. We made a conscious decision last summer to make sure this club is sustainable and healthy within the model we’ve got.
We always spoke about being a top 26 club and at the moment we are, we’ve done that for two of the last three seasons, and it’s about trying to achieve that again.
First of all, we’ve got a lot right here in the three years as a whole (since he joined). I’m passing through and my only job is to make it look a lot better and stronger than when I turned up. And I think we’re on the road to doing that.
We want (manager) Daniel (Farke) to stay, because what’s he’s done for the club is unbelievable. I’m not sure the club looks like it does today without him at the helm.
We’ve had 460 odd appearances from Academy players in the last three years. Prior to that, it took 12 years to do that. What a step forward.
We’ve got a Premier League training ground to be proud of, we’ve cleared the debts, we’ve had a way of playing, we’ve got a coach who interacts with supporters.
Now’s the time for us to be backing him, not talking badly of him. As far as I’m concerned, he’ll be here as long as he wants to be. He’s got two years left on his contract and the work we’ve done in the last two months in terms of planning for the future isn’t in terms of someone who’s lined up to be somewhere else.
If you’re going to be in the Championship next year, why don’t you want someone who won that league with 94 points taking you forward. What he’s done is his best with a group of players who ultimately weren’t good enough.
Supporters want someone to blame at the moment. He’s not the one to blame, blame me.
We don’t have to sell (next season), which is the best position we’ve been in since I’ve been here. But we do have to mindful if top clubs come in for our top players; we have to be respectful that we can’t forget about the personal ambitions of the player.
But will they be going on the cheap? Absolutely not.
We’ve got really good players and really good people here - who get it, who care. Will there be interest in them? Of course. But luckily it will be on our terms
The club is in the best place since we’ve been here, which is nice. We’ve got the tools to make sure we can be really competitive.
Our owners have been here for 25 years and stuck with the club through thick and thin. Yeah, for some, the downside is not having money to spend, but they've brought stability and genuinely care about the supporters; they genuinely care about the infrastructure; and I think we’ve got to be grateful for that.
The community is at the heart of everything we do. Unfortunately, even with money, we’re never going to be one of the big, big clubs. We’ve got to respect who we are.