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Daniel Farke's in-depth review of 2019-20 and beyond

31 July 2020

Norwich City Head Coach Daniel Farke has spoken at length about his thoughts on our 2019-20 Premier League campaign, the progress of the Academy, recruitment, and our plans going forward.

A full transcript can be read below: 

Boss, you’ve had a period of time to reflect on the 2019-20 season now. There were a few special moments in there, but it ultimately led to relegation, so what are your initial thoughts on the season as a whole?

First of all, we’re disappointed with the general outcome, without a doubt. We wanted to stay in the best league in the world and we weren’t capable of collecting enough points to earn the right to do this. Overall, we’re disappointed with the outcome from the sporting point of view, which my focus is always on.

In general, for the mid and long term future of the club, it was still an important and successful season because we were able to sort all our financial problems out and be in a position where we have paid for our sins of the past.

We were able to invest in the infrastructure, the training ground, the stadium, and at the beginning of the season were able to extend several contracts for our young lads. That protects our group and protects our best players or creates values. Some offers will come in or have already. 

Promotion can never come too soon. It was great for this club but of course we’re all disappointed we couldn’t stay in the league. We want to come back sooner rather than later.

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What would you say are the main things we’ve learned going into what we know is going to be a tough division?

It’s difficult to speak about lessons after relegation. It’s not like we can name three reasons why we were relegated. If it were that easy we would have done it without any doubt. In general, it’s always a bit more complex.

We didn’t start naive. We analysed what you need to do in order to be successful as a promoted team. We analysed the past twenty years and even looked abroad at which teams are successful after promotion.

In general, the teams that are promoted because of a solid defense find it easier to adapt to a higher level because they’re still solid and when they are then able to add quality in the offense, they have a good chance to stay in the league in the first season. They have more problems the year after, because, with no offensive plan, they struggle to take the next step.

Teams who are promoted with a brilliant offensive plan and a possession based side find it difficult to be successful in the first season because on a higher level they’re not that outstanding anymore. They have to do what’s not that much in the DNA of the players. It’s more about defending to be solid. The offensive players who were praised that much in the season before then need good defending behaviour.

These types of teams struggle a lot in the first season. Once you’re then capable of staying in the league, then the second and third years are much easier. It was the same 30 years ago and will be in 30 years in all other countries.

We knew that we were a possession based side praised for our offensive style. We knew that there were two solutions. One was to forget about our style and principles and change everything, trying to park the bus and defend everything to get clean sheets and hope for God’s help up front. 

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If we wanted to do that we’d have to change our squad because we planned it with possession based players, not great, tall, physical defenders, but more technical players. To completely change your style, you need to invest a lot of money. That was no option for us. The second option to be successful is to add lots of quality to the squad, not just in numbers but that makes you better and improves your offense, that brings two top class defenders in for example. You need to bring defenders in who are used to defending on the top level and have better quality than they have in the offense. These types of transfers start in double figures and you have to invest ten or 15 million pounds in a player to get that quality.

If you can’t take one of those options, either to change completely the style of your squad or to bring top class quality in, it will always be a struggle in the first season. We knew that from the start and opted to stay solid.

It was possible in the summer to say, ‘listen, we take the risk and don’t pay for our sins in the past. We don’t invest into the infrastructure or the training ground. We take risks to sign a few players for double figures to give ourselves a chance of staying in the league.’

But that would mean we’d be in financial trouble if we had to go down. As a newly promoted side, even if you spend that much money, it’s not a guarantee that you will stay in the league, so we opted to go for the smart and solid option - to pay for the sins, invest in the infrastructure and the training ground, to extend some contracts, and to stay solid for the mid and long term future. We knew from the first day after promotion and this decision was made that we had perhaps a five percent chance to stay in the league.

If I would have been selfish, I’d have said, ‘no, we need to sign players. We need two centre-backs, one midfielder, one goalkeeper, one striker, one winger for an unbelievable amount of money to give ourselves a chance.’

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I think the club took 100 percent the right decision. Once we took that, for me it was clear we had a five percent chance. I said that from the first day after promotion, even though no-one wanted to hear it. It was more like ‘yeah, he’s good, he’s smart, he’s doing an understatement but they will be alright because they were fantastic in the Championship,’ but it wasn’t an understatement. It was more realistic.

If the outcome is relegation, you say, ‘wait, he wasn’t convinced from the start. He should have been more positive.’ But if we would have said in the summer, ‘no, we’ll be absolutely fine and stay in the league without a doubt’ and then the outcome is relegation everyone would say we’re naive and stupid, that we don’t have a clue. You can’t win, whatever you say.

We opted to be absolutely honest and direct, saying we had a five percent chance. In order to use that, we needed everything to come together - a perfect start, luck with injuries, luck with the development of the season, game luck, luck with VAR, the teams we play not being in the perfect shape. I don’t want to complain too much about fate and don’t use it as an excuse, but we had a tough start with the first game days against Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea. I don’t think any other team was hit with more injuries, especially to key players.

We lost many games just by one goal. Four or five times we were thrashed against top class sides, but we lost many games with one goal or drew games that were close. VAR wasn’t on our side. It’s not an excuse, but I just want to explain that with a bit of luck in injuries and VAR it would have been possible for us to be there with 15 points more, stay in the league and work out the miracle.

Like I said, in 19 out of 20 cases, it would be realistic to go down. It’s nothing we were aiming for. It’s still disappointing and nothing we accepted. We worked our socks off to avoid relegation. The players tried everything as did the coaching staff. We played each and every possible formation with different types of players. In the end, we have to say that when the dust has settled, out of our history of the season, it was the expected outcome.

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As for the lessons that we’ve learned, we took the promotion and we wanted to be promoted, but we knew that it was perhaps two or three years ahead of schedule. We want to make sure that when we are capable of coming back we will be better prepared because then we won’t have to invest into the infrastructure or pay for any sins in the past. The team will be a bit more experienced and it won’t be necessary to add six or seven top class players before the season starts.

Hopefully, we will be much more developed as a club and a team and just need three or four additions who are affordable. In terms of physicality, it’s important that we have players who are physically absolutely prepared. I don’t mean that in terms of fitness level because our fitness level was outstanding, but it’s about having the pace, the power and the strength. That’s important on the top level. Those are more or less the lessons that we take out of the season.

The younger players will be more experienced in a few years as well, of course. They’ve had a few opportunities in the Premier League this season and if we think back to the FA Youth Cup, we saw Josh Martin burst onto the scene with a hat-trick against Newcastle. He’s since featured in your squads, as has Adam Idah, so what have you made of the progress of the Academy this season?

I’m full of praise for them. No other club on this level plays with as many homegrown players as we do. In the last few games, we had six or seven lads from our own academy in the squad of 18-20. It’s remarkable and a credit to our way, to have so many potential talents in the squads.

But we can’t forget how challenging and demanding this season is even for our best talents. Once we were promoted last season, we had top class talents who have proven this season they are capable of playing on the top level. It was their first season on this level, so it’s not easy with all the demands and challenges. On the football pitch, you are prepared to play, but for several lads it was the first time there were setbacks or disappointments.

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Max Aarons, after a few weeks in the Academy, came straight away into the first team squad and played every game. It’s the same with Jamal Lewis, Ben Godrey after his loan, and Todd Cantwell. From month to month he developed and became even more important for us. It was the same with Emi Buendia. All these guys wore the yellow shirt and just knew one way, the way up last season. You could count our losses on one hand in 46 games. We responded after every loss with a win. There was no setback or time for doubts and criticisms of the young lads. On this level, sometimes you lose games back to back and get criticism from the fans. You’re sometimes involved in goals against and aren’t delivering that many assists.

For our full-backs, wingers and offensive players who were involved in goals, it’s challenging and demanding to deal with setbacks for the first time in your life as a young human being. It’s difficult in the surroundings of Premier League superstars. They have expectations of their agents and families. Most of our lads have brilliant backgrounds and I’m grateful for that, but even their families think they are superstars. Their agents start to be brand managers, looking after their social media.

I try to improve them and teach them that their body position has to be different in terms of defending a cross and their positioning has to be better to develop our game a bit more, and they have guys around who say ‘no, listen, you’re already a superstar.’ It’s quite normal because thousands of agents are waiting for these players, so if their own agent tells them ‘you’re already made for this level and you need to take risks and play risky passes or celebrate your goals’ then they’re more concentrated on that.

I don’t accuse them because it’s quite normal. When everyone has expectations, it’s not easy to stay focused and level headed on the most important thing - to work hard on the football pitch. I’m full of praise for my young lads because I think they cope with this well, but it’s still their first season and they still have to learn how to handle setbacks, and the coach telling them that you have to improve certain topics while the agents tell them they can already play for Man City and Liverpool. It’s not that easy. You have to learn to adapt to this.

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I don’t have to teach Alex Tettey anymore or Tim Krul. They’re level and know what it means, but for the young lads to have their first season on this level, I think they’ve done it in a brilliant way but they still have to learn. When they’ve had more games on this level they can come back more prepared to play with more consistency and efficiency. For some of them, promotion was too soon. It was still important for their development and they’ll be much better prepared to come back.

We made a few signings back in January and have been busy with recruitment in the summer. Is that a sign of our intentions, being proactive and buying players before selling them?

Yes, it’s important to be proactive and not under pressure. One key topic will be to keep our best players and we’re in a good position because we don’t have any financial problems at all. Our scouting and recruitment are always aware of young talent and it’s important not to put too much pressure on them. If we sign four or five young talents from lower tiers or tiers abroad like the Luxembourg league, the second tier in France or League One or League Two, you won’t expect them to immediately be the best player in their position.

If one of these five signings is capable of having the breakthrough, then everything was right. We have to be careful in praising them too much too early. We will give them the time, they will have a good stage in order to present themselves. We’ll create a surrounding where if they are hard working and fully focused, they have everything in order to grow, improve and develop. Hopefully they will, but the core group will always be together and we need to keep our best players.

We also need to have some proper experienced signings with a bit higher guarantee that they deliver on the top class level. That’s what we are looking for regarding the financial possibilities we have and if they can help us in the mid and long term, we’re focused on that type of transfer. It’s brilliant to have these young lads with potential, but it won’t be enough to promote them. They have a great club in terms of trust, giving them time and a stage to develop.

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The last few weeks have been a difficult period for all involved, including the fans who’d have loved to be the twelfth player and help out inside the stadium. When they can come back to Carrow Road, how much are you looking forward to seeing them again and what’s your message to supporters during this period?

It’s another topic I didn’t mention before because it was a big disadvantage to us as a newly promoted side. Every promoted side needs their fans to help them get over the line. After the lockdown, we had more home games than away games, so it was a disadvantage not to play in front of our fans because it’s always good when they are there.

I think our poor results are not just coincidences. It has to do with the supporters not being there. Such a young side needs emotions. It’s easier for bigger clubs when the emotions are out of the game. It’s more about individual quality so the other clubs have advantages. Before lockdown, we had some brilliant results, beating Tottenham away in the cup and beating Leicester City. We had momentum on our side and that was killed, so it was another setback against us.

We couldn’t complain because it was a worldwide pandemic and there are more important topics sadly at the moment than just if Norwich stays up or not. We had to accept playing behind closed doors but it didn’t help us.

We’re all looking forward to having our supporters back because it’s one of the biggest strengths of the club, to have the unity between them and our players and staff. There is one unity fighting for the yellow shirt, not just eleven players on the pitch.

With our yellow wall in the stadium and even at away games, we can’t wait to have them back.

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