Daniel Farke. His name came completely out of the blue. The board could have promoted someone up from the accounts department and their name would have meant as much to me. All the usual suspects who ride football’s managerial merry-go-round were said to have been in the running: Roy Hodgson, Gary Rowett, Mark Warburton, to name just three. But following a selection process overseen by sporting director Stuart Webber, they placed all their chips on a rank outsider.
“Borussia Dortmund are known for employing high-class coaching talent, and if you look at his team at Dortmund they very much dominated possession and they were defensively very good,” opined Webber. “He’ll bring a certain style and identity to us that the fans can relate to.”
If there’s one thing the Norwich City board loves, it’s an experiment and Farke is another case in point. Webber was sold on him and presumably hoped he would replicate the success of David Wagner, who led Huddersfield to promotion after joining from Borussia Dortmund’s reserve side. And with Delia Smith utterly in thrall to Webber, it was a done deal once the German had expressed an interest in the job.
So how has Farke lived up to Webber’s billing since his arrival? Possession has certainly has been at the forefront of his approach and the importance of it is never lost on the players. We pass the ball a lot. Sideways or even backwards, for much of the time, but we like to keep it. We had 70 per cent possession in the opening game at Birmingham and 59 per cent against West Brom. However, the 4-0 drubbing at Millwall last August underlined the fact that in the Championship possession is not ‘nine-tenths of the law’: City had 72 per cent of the play. It’s what you do with it, that counts.
Webber swears by Farke’s favoured style, but we move it too slowly to be effective and rarely hit the opposition on the break. There is no element of surprise, one of the reasons why we found it so difficult to break down sides like Burton and Bolton last season. In contrast, Leeds only needed a few quick passes to reach our penalty box and pose a threat, while we knocked it around with little urgency.
Webber also cited a mean-spirited back line as a strength of a Farke side and, to be fair, our failure to manage even a top-half finish last season could not be laid at the door of the defence. We conceded 60 goals, nine fewer than under Neil in the previous season, and it was the dearth of goals that led to a goal difference of -11, a stark contrast to +16 the season before. Angus Gunn was one of the players of the season and Grant Hanley’s big-hearted displays earned the respect of fans and the captain’s armband for the current campaign.
Now, five games into the new season and we’ve shipped 11 goals and have a goalkeeper whose confidence looks shot. After the hames Tim Krul made of things against West Brom, I would have been tempted to give him a run out in the cup a few days later to let him get back into his stride. Far from putting that sorry episode behind him, he has gone on to make two more gaffes, gifting Leeds two goals before half-time. He is visibly rusty, having made only a handful of performances for Brighton, and I would not risk him in tomorrow’s high-profile fixture. If he risks McGovern and it doesn’t work out, he goes back to the bench and Farke is criticised for not picking Krul. A calamitous afternoon for Krul and there will be no way back for him.
As for Webber’s claim that the German would deliver a style and identity the supporters could relate to, this just hasn’t happened. Our style is agonisingly ponderous, a dot-to-dot approach that gets us nowhere. If Farke has given us an identity, I have no clue what it is. Onel Hernandez has bags of skill, but clubs will mark him out of games like Leeds did. Teemu Pukke looks a decent signing and has the kind of pace we so badly need to inject into our play if we are to compete in this division. If we can play to their strengths, and Rhodes can take the chances that come his way, we will cause problems for sides at this level. And that will have to happen regularly if we are to generate the goals Maddison scored and which earned us 20 points – preventing us from going down.
What is alarming is that we only finished 14th with a £20m striker and a £10m goalkeeper and midfielder and they’re now gone. Although most of that money is servicing our post-relegation debts and the profligate spending on the likes of Lafferty and Naysmith (who is still costing us an arm and a leg) we have an international goalkeeper and two international centre-halves and yet the defence is leaking like a sieve. Timm Klose and Grant Hanley are better players than that, I believe. So what this season already has in common with the last is that Farke isn’t getting the best from what he’s got and he still doesn’t know his best 11.
The pink away dressing room debacle will no doubt be casually shrugged off by those supporters who ‘see no ships’ where the Smith/Wynn-Jones/Webber triumvirate is concerned. But such a public clutching at straws is cringeworthy and opposition managers could do worse than simply point at the supposedly calming paintwork just before their players head for a final injection of motivation. Also, telling every club in the division you’ve done it, rather than letting it come as a surprise, bordered on ridiculous.
Our Carabou Cup win at Cardiff was a welcome one after the harsh reality check delivered by Leeds. But Farke needs another win tomorrow at Portman Road if he is to lift the collective mood ahead of the international break. Paul Hurst’s appointment was positively received by Ipswich fans, but they are winless and bottom going into the derby. Farke dodged a bullet last season when Klose’s last-gasp equaliser prompted scenes of wild celebration and that now infamous Radio Suffolk commentary. While last season was perceived as ‘transitional’, this one is not and a defeat to such a weak Ipswich side would really set alarm bells ringing.