Why Norwich are defying convention with their 'new' backroom team

Norwich City Assistant Glen Riddersholm (left) and Head Coach Johannes Hoff Thorup

Norwich City Assistant Glen Riddersholm (left) and Head Coach Johannes Hoff Thorup

What’s the best way to build a backroom team?

Traditionally, a manager brings their tried-and-trusted staff with them to a new club. When Julen Lopetegui was confirmed as West Ham’s new boss toward the end of last month, he brought five assistants, including a Head of Performance, Head of Analysis and fitness coach.

When Roberto De Zerbi left Brighton at the end of the season, seven staff departed too. The logic is obvious, as former Crystal Palace and AGF assistant Dave Reddington told TGG.

“The manager has to get results quickly and needs people he can trust.”

There is a different approach though, as Norwich City have shown with their appointment of Head Coach Johannes Hoff Thorup and Assistant Glen Riddersholm.

Dane Riddersholm is the only person coming to Carrow Road with compatriot Thorup - and they've never even worked together before.

TGG understands they were linked up by their respective agents and Norwich then ratified the choice of Assistant. The match-up makes a lot of sense. While Thorup is 35 and has only been in management since January 2023 (with FC Nordsjaelland), Riddersholm has managed four clubs (FC Midtjylland, AGF, Sønderjyske and IFK Norrköping) and took Midtjylland to their first Danish league title in 2014/15.

He has also held senior positions with the Danish Football Association. Like Thorup, he is a proven player developer, which is very important to a self-sustaining club like Norwich, who want to bring through their own players from the Academy in conjunction with recruiting top young talent.

Mina Cup

On Riddersholm's LinkedIn, he says he has helped develop more than 40 internationals during his time with club and country, including Simon Kjaer, Christian Eriksen, Martin Braithwaite and Joachim Andersen. Indeed, 55% of the 2018 Danish national team were players he had worked with.

Nonetheless, it’s brave for the Head Coach (and club) to go with an Assistant he hasn't worked with before - and it's extremely unusual. One other notable outlier is Ange Postecoglou, who has worked with a completely new coaching team at every club he's been at.

He has said: “I have always worked with different staff, I’m not the person who takes staff with me. By bringing in new people, it forces me as to make that message relevant to the new person coming in the door.

"It’s a brave decision to bring in someone you have never worked with before when you’re already successful. Bringing in people I am potentially going to be challenged by is great for me."

Southampton did a similar thing in the summer of 2022, when they brought in a new first-team staff including First Team Lead Rubén Sellés to work with Ralph Hassenhuttl, although Assistant Richard Kitzbichler was retained. The experiment didn’t really work, because the Austrian duo were gone by the end of the year.

There's good reason why almost every Head Coach or manager brings his own assistant. Reddington worked with Hodgson and his long-time number two Ray Lewington at Palace and said the latter completed the former.

“They were the perfect double act,” Reddington told TGG. “Ray was very good on the grass and also very good around the lads. He knew the environment, he had this complete feel for everything.

"He has Roy’s back completely and is completely honest with him and will tell him at the right times.”

To go with a completely new staff, Reddington says the Head Coach will need to be "very self assured and confident" and have "a very strong character."

Norwich have retained First-Team Coaches Andrew Hughes and Narcis Pelach, as well as Goalkeeping Coach Paul Clements. They have a Sporting Director in Ben Knapper and the implication is clear: the club sets the footballing strategy and identity with the Head Coach fitting into it, rather than the other way round.

If a Head Coach brings - and then leaves - with a lot of staff, it looks like they are the ones setting the football strategy and holding the intellectual property.

There are also the financial implications. When Chelsea paid off Antonio Conte and his eight assistants in the summer of 2018, it cost £26.647m in severance pay. When, as Dan Ashworth says, the average lifespan of a manager in the Premier League and Football League is 14 months, this can be a huge expense for clubs.

Different staff also bring different ideas, as Brentford First Team Coach Justin Cochrane told the TGG Podcast (which you can listen to below).

“When I went into Brentford, it was clear that Thomas (Frank) has Brian Riemer, who he’s known for a long time, but then all the other staff are people who have been club appointments that have been brought in with specific skillsets to help the club," he said.

“It’s a diverse group - diverse of thinking and ideas, with a lot of difference between the people, but when its all put into the pot and we mix it together, so far it’s worked out quite well and I credit the club for doing that.

“It’s interesting for me because I’m working with some very very good people who all have specific roles and are fulfilling those roles. Manu (Sotelo) the goalkeeper coach, Bernardo (Cueva) the Tactical Statistician is fantastic, (first-team coach) Kevin O’Connor is the glue at the football club and is a fantastic coach and brilliant with the players, and Chris Haslam, who is one of the best I have come across in terms of performance.

"So you have a unique set of people there, as well as the manager and the assistant, who are able to help the club move forward.”

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