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Interviews

Exclusive interview: Stuart Webber on City's start to the season, injury situation and more

12 October 2019

Canaries TV sat down with Sporting Director Stuart Webber this week to discuss a variety of topics. You can read the full transcript below or watch the full 16-minute video above.

We’re two months into the Premier League season. What’s your assessment of how the team has been getting on?

Overall, we can be pretty proud of how the boys have adapted to it both on and off the pitch. It’s such a transformation in the level, but also in the scrutiny. That’s tough to adapt to, but overall, we can be pretty proud.

Of course, you want more points, we’re greedy and we want to win every game but also you have to be realistic. We’ve had a terrible run of fixtures in terms of the games and then when you look at the injuries, people will say that’s an excuse, but to be honest if you took two goalkeepers out of Liverpool as well as three of the four centre-halves, two defensive midfield players and a winger who played the most games as a winger last season, they would probably struggle.

I don’t think it’s an excuse, it’s just realism. Through these periods, you build resilience and trust among each other so overall, we have to be pretty content with how we’ve started. We’ve given ourselves a foundation to try to build and push on a little bit.

We’ve seen the ups and downs of the Premier League in recent weeks after beating last season’s champions in Manchester City, and then losing three games in a row. Does that outline the need for a level head right across the club in a situation like this, not just in the dressing room but among staff as well?

Yeah, absolutely. We can’t get too high and we can’t get too low, so after we beat Man City we can’t walk round and convince ourselves that we’re going to win the Premier League this season. Likewise, we can’t lose at two incredibly tough places to go in Crystal Palace and Burnley and against Aston Villa at home with all the problems that we had and then want to jump off a cliff.

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We’ve got to stay level, that’s the supporters as well. I personally thought it was a little bit flat on Saturday, even when it was 0-0. I don’t mean when it was 5-0, because listen I appreciate people want to go home at 5-0 and do their shopping or whatever, but we can’t take it for granted that winning games in the Premier League is easy. It’s not, because if it was everybody would be doing it.

We’ve been on a tough journey to get here. We climbed Everest last year and we’ve gone back down to the bottom to try to climb it again. That was always going to be hard and what we can’t do is lose our nerves after a couple of bad games. Likewise, we can’t go to Bournemouth and win and think we need to get into Europe.

We need to stay level-headed and understand it’s a long season. It was always going to be a really difficult season. We have to remember that, but what we’ve proven with the two wins and a lot of the performances is that we can be competitive at this level. We need a lot of good things to go our way and need our squad fit, because maybe it’s not as strong or deep or experienced as others.

We need everything to point in the right direction for us to be successful, but we’ve already proven that we can at least compete in games at this level and we’ll give ourselves a chance.

In terms of injuries, we’ve had terrible luck with the amount of players that have been side-lined. Have you ever witnessed as many injuries in such a short period of time?

No, and we’ve had a lot of strange injuries. You fight to get Zimmermann fit, who got injured on the last day of the off-season programme. You get him fit and within 20 minutes there’s a terrible tackle on his ankle and he’s out.

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Timm Klose gets himself fit and is on the end of a horrendous tackle. Then you have the Onel situation. Tim Krul had a side strain. I’d never heard of a footballer having that, I thought it was a cricket injury.

Unfortunately, like everything in life, they always come together. At the end of last season, all the players were fit at the same time and you had five miserable players every week who couldn’t get in the match-day squad. It often happens that it works the other way, when you get injuries they will come at the same time.

You’ve got to take the positives, it gives opportunities to others, giving them a chance to prove that they can also play at the level, and that’s why you have a squad. These things will help make us more resilient. In these periods, we’ve got to stick together and keep our heads. We mustn’t lose focus of the goal in hand and that’s the most important thing.

On a positive note, they seem to be clearing up, touch wood. Lots look like they’re going to come back at a similar time and that’s great so let’s look at it as a chance to push on. Hopefully, that’s done, and we’ll get some good luck and take advantage of that.

As for the business we conducted over the summer with the five players who came in, what’s your assessment of the impact they’ve made and how they’ve settled into the squad and the environment here?

They’ve all settled in really well. Some have been unlucky. Ralf had to wait patiently for an opportunity and then he got injured when he got it. That’s sod’s law and was disappointing for him. Sam did great in the two games he played and then unfortunately picked up a bit of a knock when Max came back in.

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Patrick has shown glimpses. No doubt, we want to see more from him, but he’s shown glimpses. Josip got his first goal on the weekend and that will certainly help his confidence. He’s been there with good performances.

Amadou, in fairness, who we signed as a defensive midfield player who can play centre-back, thank God we did. He’s settled in great and shown some really good performances. His English is getting better, so I think they’ve all settled in.

It’s a really easy group to settle in to because we’ve got so many good guys in the dressing room who make people feel welcome straight away. We do a lot of work on recruiting the right type of people to fit into that dressing room, so it’s no surprise to me that they’ve all settled in pretty well.

The Under-23s squad was completely overhauled in the summer with lots of new faces coming in. How do you view the progress of the development side, particularly with Akin and Archie having to step up to the first team squad for the game against Aston Villa?

It’s great because that’s what our club is about. Ideally, do we want those two guys on the bench against Villa? No, because they got there because of injuries, you’d rather they get there through opportunity like Adam Idah has done. At the same time, what a great experience for them to have been on the bench in a Premier League game.

The Under-23s are doing pretty well in general. The Leasing.com Trophy has been a good challenge for them. We beat Crawley last week with four players who could still play in the youth team. If you look at the Under-23 team it’s actually really young, so often four or five players from the Under-18s are in there. That’s just how we do it.

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We push players on and then they come into Neil Adams’ loan programme or directly into the first team like Max did or like Adam Idah’s done this summer. Overall, we’ve made some good steps. We’ve still got a lot of work to do in raising the level in those groups.

It’s got to be a relentless passion of ours to constantly try to reinvest in young players, because we’ve seen how hard it is to compete. If you look at Villa alone, their goalkeeper cost more than we’ve spent in the whole time that Daniel and I have been at the club. That’s one player in one position, so for us, the way we’re always going to have to do it is to try to develop young players and buy young players, or players who may be out of contract.

That’s just the reality that we’re dealt with, so it’s just important that we continue to keep investing in young players because that’s what our club is and we’re proud of that.

It’s currently the international break. For you as a Sporting Director, are there mixed feelings of wanting your players to do well on international duty but hoping they don’t come back with any more injuries, particularly in our current situation?

Yeah, more injuries now would be a disaster. At the same time, we have to be respectful that they’re playing for their countries and we’re proud of that and of how they represent the club for their countries. We’re not the guys who try to stop it. We want them to go and do well.

A lot of them are obviously the first team guys, but there are also a lot of young players going into youth international tournaments, so it’s good for them to go and experience a different environment and hear different noises. Also, this break has come at a great time because it actually gives a chance for a few of the boys to get back and get rested up and recovered.

"When you have punches in the face, do you get back up and start swinging or lie in the canvas?"

It’s a chance for staff to have a couple of days away from the environment and to come back refreshed to push again. On a personal level, it’s always busy. We’ve got an academy audit going on at the moment so it’s important to make sure we get that right.

I’ll be away most of the weekend watching games and seeing players in different environments playing international football, so it’s a good time, but like always, there’s plenty of work to do.

When the team is going through a spell like this with the amount of injuries we have got, do you think it’s beneficial, particularly for our younger players, in terms of building their character and their mental strength as well?

Yeah, because football isn’t a straight road. It’s a bumpy road, as is life. It’s about how you react when it’s not going right as much as when you have success. Life’s easy when everything is going in the right direction. It’s when you have some punches in the face, do you get back up and start swinging back or do you lie in the canvas?

It will test our players, it will test our staff, and it will test our supporters. It’s easy talking about culture, environment, having a great club to be at, we believe in the plan, let’s do it our way, it’s the Norwich way – that’s really easy when you’ve just won the league, really easy. Everyone believes it.

It’s now, in these periods – and I think I said this at the end of last season – this will all be tested. It’s now going to be tested and we’ll find out more about people’s characters during this period. We’re lucky that we’ve got people here who will support our players through that because this is a growth period for young players.

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Maybe football has been a bit easy for some of them so far. If you take Max Aarons as an example – he got in the first team for Ipswich away and never looked back. Suddenly, now he’s had a first bad injury for the first time since he’s been playing in the first team. All of a sudden, it’s not easy. He played against a top, world-class player in Zaha and people like that.

It’s really going to be tested, but this is when people grow and what we have to do is make sure as a club that, led by Daniel and myself, that we create an environment which is comfortable and allows people to grow and not to be too up or down emotionally or too judgmental.

Likewise, when we won the league, all our players and staff weren’t suddenly world-class, but when it’s going wrong or we’re not getting the results we want, everyone isn’t all of a sudden not good enough. We have to stay in the middle and appreciate that people grow and get better through this period, myself included, Daniel included, the players and the supporters included.

We’re speaking at the Lotus Training Centre where lots of changes are taking place in terms of the facilities here, which have come on over the last 18 months to two years. How close is the work to completion and how impressed are you with the changes and the work that has gone on here?

Incredibly impressed and proud. The facilities now compared to when I joined, it could be a different training ground to be honest. We’re close to finishing this stage now but it’s about what’s next. It has to be about that relentless pursuit of what’s the next thing for the club and how do we make it even better, not ‘we’ve got great facilities now,’ because in five years they will be old.

In ten years, 15 years, it’s got to be relentless on how we keep getting better. How do we keep investing in the root? It’s great but it’s exciting what’s next, and what we can look forward to building next and helping us become even better in terms of what we produce on the pitch, because we’re getting it right away from the pitch.

You’ve touched briefly on the Carrow Road atmosphere. Lots of work has been done behind the scenes, particularly with fan groups like Along Come Norwich, to boost the atmosphere. What did you make of it against Man City? Obviously, it was a massive night for the club in terms of beating last season’s champions. How important is it that we keep that going moving forward?

Incredibly important. That was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever been at and I don’t mean just at Carrow Road. It was definitely the best at Carrow Road and better than any game last season when we got promoted, better than when we played Ipswich the year before.

"We wouldn't have beat Man City if the crowd wasn't like it was, so we need that more often."

But it’s probably one of the best I’ve been at anywhere and I’ve been fortunate enough to watch football all around the world. From minute one to the 96th minute it was incredible.

Now, the team won’t always be able to produce that level of performance and the fans won’t be as well. I get that, it’s hard to produce that every single week because you need the emotion of the game to lend itself as well, but we do need that support and I felt against Villa from the start that it was quite flat, not through lack of effort from the guys doing great work, but it just felt flat walking to the stadium.

We can’t get complacent about that because one of our major advantages, especially playing at home as we showed against Newcastle and Chelsea, is that it’s a difficult place to play. But I thought it was an easy place to play on Saturday, one because of the level of performance, absolutely, but also because of the fans.

It wasn’t an electric atmosphere, and I get that when we’re 5-0 down. I understand you want to go home and get your Indian or Chinese takeaway in, but from minute one we need the crowd and it can make a massive difference to us. It made a massive difference against Man City for sure. We don’t win that game, in my opinion, if that crowd wasn’t like it was, so we need that more often.

We’re desperate for people to bring that. Don’t get lazy. If you’ve got people next to you who’ve only come along for the Premier League journey, give them a little slap and say ‘come on, wake up, we need your support’ because we do. It’s vital for us.

Players will write tweets saying that and you might think it’s because they want to get a few thousand likes or whatever, but it’s not about that, we actually, genuinely need it. If you look at the success of Stoke when they got promoted and managed to stay there, they brought that every week.

We need that, or it will be like it was a few years ago when it was really easy to come and play against us. It wasn’t intimidating. 2,500 Villa fans out sung us from minute one to the last minute. In my opinion, that can’t happen. We need people to stick with us and help us fight until the end because we’re going to need that in every game.

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On a personal note you recently signed a new three-year deal with the club. Reflecting on your time here, how pleased and proud are you of the work that has gone on and of what you have achieved?

We’ve achieved a lot and I was delighted to be offered a longer contract. I’m extremely grateful to Delia, Michael and the board for that. It’s a great club, but I think even though we’ve done some good things, we’ve got so much more to do.

What keeps me awake are the things we haven’t done right yet and the decisions we’ve got wrong more than the good bits. Maybe one day I’ll be an old man and I’ll look back and go ‘you know what, that was quite good,’ but promotion feels like it didn’t even happen now because we’re so deep into what we’re trying to do.

The most important thing is that we constantly strive to remember who we are, what we are, and remain humble to that. We can’t get carried away one way or the other. We’ve got a lot of work to do throughout the club.

"We can't rest on the good times. It's an obsession to be the best because this club and county deserves that."

There’s some amazing work being done, and we’ve got some amazing people here. We’ve got an amazing playing group with amazing staff and an amazing head coach, but we’ve all got so much to do still as well, and I don’t think we should forget that.

Of course, we have to enjoy the good times, but we can’t rest on that. It’s got to be an obsession to be the best we can be because this club and county deserves that. This club is so important for this county and for the people here. That’s who we’re working for.

We represent them every single day and it’s got to be a relentless pursuit to take that on, so I’m looking forward and proud to be trusted to be part of that. Going forward, hopefully I can help make a difference because that’s what life’s about, making a difference in a positive way. After three years, we’ll see what happens then.


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