Special report: The secrets behind the Norwich success story

John Percy
The Telegraph
Manager Daniel Farke has overseen a period of vast improvement that looks likely to end in promotion to the Premier League - Jason Bye
Manager Daniel Farke has overseen a period of vast improvement that looks likely to end in promotion to the Premier League - Jason Bye

Norwich City are potentially 90 minutes away from clinching promotion to the Premier League and Daniel Farke is sitting in his office, pleading valiantly for calm.

He has guided Norwich to the top of the Championship against all the odds and pre-season predictions, and is on the verge of securing a dream finish to this most memorable of seasons.

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Nearly 12 months after finishing 14th, Norwich will be virtually assured of a place back in the big time on Friday night if they beat Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United fail to take three points against Nottingham Forest earlier in the day.

“We are in a brilliant position and everyone is allowed to dream, especially the supporters,” says Farke, on a glorious spring afternoon at Colney.

“This is the toughest league in the world. So many games, so many big clubs. It’s important that you are not stupid and realise that getting promoted will be life-changing. But we have four more games left to play, we must remain calm and not lose the focus.”

It has been a remarkable turnaround, and Norwich’s progress should act as a timely warning to trigger-happy chairmen that sacking the manager is not always the best solution.

Introducing new players, fresh ideas and a radical philosophy requires time and patience and, fortunately for Farke, he has found the right environment to flourish since arriving from Borussia Dortmund II.

<span>Teemu Pukki is having a brilliant season up front</span> <span>Credit: PA </span>
Teemu Pukki is having a brilliant season up front Credit: PA

Last season the club finished below midtable, losing 16 games, and Stuart Webber, Norwich’s sporting director, admits it was often difficult to remain positive.

“At times last year it was really horrible. Everyone was down on what we were doing, and I fully understood that. We weren’t getting anywhere near the results we wanted,” he says.

“There were signs of progress but we finished behind our local rivals [Ipswich] for the first time in years. We asked a lot of the fans, and their trust got tested. The board stuck with me and Daniel and we will always be grateful because other clubs would have changed it.

“That’s the mistake other clubs make, they are constantly chasing it and patience is a dirty word. But Daniel never wavered in his beliefs and we knew that we needed another transfer window to bring in the type of players we wanted. It’s taken two years of hard work for us to become an overnight success.”

Farke-Ball, as it is known, is a fluid 4-3-3 and could not be further away from the high-octane, pressing styles of other German managers such as Jurgen Klopp and David Wagner. 

It is an approach arguably more reminiscent of Pep Guardiola, with the belief that players will only develop under a certain style. It is perhaps no surprise Farke was a prolific striker in his early years at Lippstadt.

Norwich have won 11 of their last 15 games, with only one defeat in the Championship this year.

“In order to be successful, everything has to come together,” says Farke, 42. “Last season when I signed the club was in a very difficult situation. We sold some of our best players because of the financial pressure and it is not easy.

“A solid finish in mid-table was not too bad. We weren’t involved in a relegation battle and even last season we dominated games but were 24th in shot accuracy. We knew we were close.”

Now Norwich could not be closer, and Webber has undoubtedly been one of the other key men in the transformation. A 35-year-old Welshman who counts Liverpool, Wolves and Huddersfield among his former clubs, his impact in Norfolk has been crucial.

When he was appointed in April 2017 Norwich’s wage bill was £63m a year, the second highest ever in the Championship behind Newcastle. But the sales of stars including James Maddison (£21m), Alex Pritchard (£11m), Josh Murphy (£10m), Jacob Murphy (£10m) and Jonny Howson (£6m) has now slashed that wage bill to £25m, which still includes five big earners out on loan.

Recruitment has been shrewd, with Emi Buendia, a gifted Argentinian attacking midfielder, arguably the stand-out signing at just £1.5m from Getafe.

“Buendia is a success story for the whole scouting department, starting with the guys in data who first flagged him up for high statistics in a really underperforming team,” says Webber.

“Kieran Scott [head of recruitment] then went to watch him, came back and said he was unbelievable. I then got involved, watched him and then by using my contacts got into Getafe to make the deal happen at a time when they were struggling for money.

“It was the perfect jigsaw and everything slotted into place, and that very rarely happens. We literally found him from nowhere. The most interesting part of it is that Buendia was on loan at Cultural Leonesa, who are owned by Leeds. Luckily we got in there under Leeds’ noses.”

<span>£1.5m Emi Buendia has proven a particularly successful signing</span> <span>Credit: PA </span>
£1.5m Emi Buendia has proven a particularly successful signing Credit: PA

There have been many other astute signings: Teemu Pukki has 27 league goals after signing on a free transfer from Brondby, while Marco Stiepermann (£1.2m from Bochum) and goalkeeper Tim Krul (free transfer) have been admirably consistent.

Farke and Webber also take special satisfaction with the signing of Tom Trybull, a defensive midfielder from Germany who turned up on trial without a club on Farke’s recommendation.

“When I first arrived two years ago I could not have expected Norwich to be in this position, one game away from the Premier League,” says Trybull, 26.

“This is amazing and it’s a dream to be part of it. I’ve never known a dressing room like this one. Now all my friends in Germany are big Norwich fans and they are desperate for us to get the points.

“We have shown other clubs to trust the boss and the philosophy. We have proved it’s not all about spending loads of money. Maybe other clubs will now change their minds. Norwich has been good for football.”

The mood at Norwich’s training ground this week was vibrant, and there is a clear sense of togetherness. Dotted around the offices are inspirational messages on the walls, such as this one from American author Kenneth H. Blanchard: “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

Work is well underway on a £5m revamp of their base, with the funds raised by the Canaries Bond, with dressing rooms being built for junior levels down to the under-9s. The academy is also flourishing, underlined by the impressive impact of full-backs Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis in the first-team this season.

<span>Midfielder Tom Trybull says his friends back in Germany are now Norwich fans</span> <span>Credit: jason bye </span>
Midfielder Tom Trybull says his friends back in Germany are now Norwich fans Credit: jason bye

Norwich’s majority shareholders, Delia Smith and her husband Michael Wynn-Jones, are fully in tune with the vision and make regular visits to Colney. Season ticket sales are capped at 22,000.

The big question is whether Norwich can finally end their unwanted reputation as a yo-yo club, after dropping out of the Premier League in 2016.

Webber has a plan. “If we do go up, we won’t be making knee-jerk decisions. We won’t be signing players for £15m. That has to be the aim, eventually, but we will be looking at Swansea, Burnley and Bournemouth when they first got promoted.

“You have to believe that if you create a good environment and culture, with young players and smart recruitment, that you can be successful.”

Farke, meanwhile, is only concerned about Friday night and the subject turns to horses as he prepares to leave.

The chant of “Farke’s on a horse” has reverberated around Carrow Road in recent weeks and Norwich’s head coach takes up the story.

“When I was leaving Lippstadt [in 2015] the chairman decided I had to ride a horse to say goodbye,” he says, laughing.

“The stadium was full and I had to keep my nerve. Now the fans here in Norwich have picked up on it and want me to do it again.

“The big problem is I was always a bit scared of horses: I would never win the Cheltenham Gold Cup! ”

He should not worry - for his legion of admirers, promotion out of the Championship will be more than enough.

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