Norwich City sporting director Stuart Webber has spoken to Canaries TV about a variety of topics after the club's relegation to the Championship was confirmed on Saturday.
A full transcript can be read below:
Stuart, a few days have passed since relegation was confirmed. Could you just sum up your emotions for us on the situation?
It’s not particularly nice but it’s also not the biggest surprise. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’ve been crying all weekend or try to put a show on for the fans so they can go: “Oh, look at him, he cares.” My job is to get our head around it and get on with it, not sit here sulking and sit here blaming people.
We’re fortunate with the lockdown in that we’ve had time to reflect on this season, what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone well. I’ve spent a lot of time with Daniel [Farke] during that period and the rest of the staff so we could analyse if this happened then, as opposed to now. Now, it’s about actions and moving forward, not dwelling on the past, like when someone dies – you can’t change it. You can’t change the fact we’ve been relegated, we have. Let’s get our heads around it, dust ourselves off and let’s go again.
The country I’m from, you get up and fight. You don’t lie down on the canvas and let people laugh at you, you get up and fight. We’ll have some criticism and people will have plenty to say, no doubt. It’ll be the same people a year ago who were calling us geniuses, so you have to just live with that and get on with it. Like I say now, it’s not the time for words, it’s time for actions. It’s time to take what we’ve learned from this and we can get back there and prove the next time that we can do it better.
In terms of the recruitment that was made in the two windows, what did you make of it and do you have any regrets about the players that were brought into the club?
No, no regrets. Every player that’s come in has tried their best. Every player and every staff member at the club, I truly believe, have tried their best. Frankly, we’ve not been good enough and people don’t like to hear that. People want to look for reasons and delve deeper, in the end it comes down to quality. I said to someone the other day, it’s like we’ve gone into a war without a gun and guess what? We’ve been shot.
If you look at the other two teams promoted, one spent over £100 million and one spent £60-70 million. We can’t compete with that. We spoke when we got promoted last year, the words that we used weren’t a joke when we said we’d be the lowest spenders, have the lowest budget and it was going to be unbelievably difficult and we needed another miracle – that wasn’t us trying to buy time and trying to have a laugh with people. That’s where we’re at. We’ve gone into the Premier League with an extremely inexperienced young team, we’ve not been able to recruit the level of player that we want.
Listen, we’ve sold a lot of players over the last few years that have gone into the Premier League and not performed and we’ve got a lot of money for them, so even when you have money, unless you have ‘real’ money and you can spend money to get top quality, you can also go and waste a lot of money. That’s one thing I’ll make no apologies for, that’s one thing I was refusing to do. I was not going to put this club in the state I found it – frankly, if people don’t like that, I’m okay with it. If people above me don’t like it, then I’ll go. But I’m not going to leave this place in the state I found it in because I truly believe if this football club is to be here forever and I’m passing through trying to make it the best it can be, if it was about my ego or Daniel’s ego, then, yeah of course, we would have spent a load of money and maybe got a few ‘likes’ on Twitter while we did it, leave the club in a hole, potentially get relegated and we get sacked and someone else has to pick up the mess.
I refuse to do that, and I make no apologies for that. Could we have done better? Of course, we could, I’m the first to admit that. I’m sure when we go through this, people will want to look for someone to blame – blame me. Don’t blame the players, don’t blame Daniel, don’t blame the staff or the board, blame me. If people need a scapegoat, not a problem – I can take it because I don’t read it. It doesn’t affect me. I’m in charge of the football strategy and I’m in charge of the decisions when it comes to spending money we haven’t got. I chose not to and I make no apologies for that, if people don’t like it then I’ll take the blame for that and that’s okay. But leave the players and staff alone because they worked unbelievably hard – it’s not their fault, it’s mine.
The boss said in his post-match comments after the game Saturday about the developments that have been made at the training ground and how important they’ve been for the long-term future of the club. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Daniel and I have been here for three years now and I look at what we’ve achieved – we’ve achieved around £60 million net (profit) in player sales, we’ve had more academy appearances played at first-team level in three years than we had in the previous 12 years, we’ve got a training ground that’s now a Premier League training ground – let’s not forget when we turned up we had a gym in a conservatory and had a pitch with a hill in it. We had to sell players to survive and we don’t need to do that now. We’ve got a young squad and a squad full of international players. We’ve got a recruitment department which covers players all over Europe and into South America now. This club will get the benefits of that.
We’ve got an academy which is doing great productivity, I look at fan engagement from where it was and where it is now. Unfortunately, the fans can’t be with us right now because they aren’t allowed in the grounds but the connection and honesty we give them as a club – they don’t always like what we say but I think they appreciate that we’ll stand up and at least talk with them. I look at the atmosphere as well, so many things that we’ve developed. It’s also our highest league position since we’ve been here, we finished 34th in the first year, 14th in the Championship, last year was 21st and this year will probably be 20th.
Of course, we didn’t want to finish 20th, we wanted to finish higher but the fact is we’ve had progress year on year. We go back into the Championship in a much better state than three years ago when we were in the Championship, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, that doesn’t mean we’re going to get re-promoted, we all know it’s an outrageously difficult division to get out of. But the fact is, the club is in much better health and again, we make no apologies. The work that we’ve done, the benefits will come long after the likes of myself have gone. That’s important, football’s an infinite game, it doesn’t end. I truly believe my role is to help make this club better in the future and some of them benefits will be long after I’ve gone but that’s my job.
If it was about me or Daniel, then we wouldn’t build a training ground and we would spend money just on players, we would leave to go to other clubs on a personal level just to earn a bit money and have a bit more kudos. The owners have entrusted us and we’ve got to pay them back and help them build something which then someone better than me or Daniel can come in in the future and make it even better. This club deserves the best it can be.
We also need to appreciate where we are and our history in the Premier League. Our average position is 32nd and I know people will say in the Southampton game that we should be competing with teams like that. But, hang on a minute, they’ve got four England internationals starting the game, let’s not forget that. As much as we want to compete with them, and can we compete with them in the future? Of course, we can. But let’s have some respect for the level of people we’re coming up against here. We’ve made lots of positive changes and when people have time to reflect properly, I think they’ll learn to appreciate things a bit more.
You mention the Southampton game which came at the start of the restart. The results since haven’t been great for us, do you think performances from the team have possibly merited a bit better than what we’ve got?
Some of the performances haven’t been good enough – Southampton, West Ham, Arsenal for sure. You play like that at any level and you get beat to be honest, let alone at this level. But other performances, there have been some positives to take from them. It’s tough when you’re losing games and you’ve got players that aren’t used to that feeling. A lot of our young players have only known winning since they’ve come in our team and only known winning out loan. Ben Godfrey, for example, got to a play-off final at Shrewsbury, Todd Cantwell on his loan [at Fortuna Sittard] got promoted. For a lot of our players, this is the first time maybe they’ve failed. I don’t think they’ve failed, I think they’ve learned, but it’s the first time that maybe people are questioning them and they are going to have to question themselves.
But this is a period where you grow. Over your life and career, these are the moments where you grow. You don’t grow when you win and everyone tells you you’re brilliant, this is the moment now when our young players and staff will grow and learn from this and become better people and better footballers, as much as it hurts like hell for people now. People will grow and come out better for this.
We’ve had another glimpse of our future recently with Adam Idah and Josh Martin getting more gametime. Can fans expect them to be involved more in the final few games and into next season?
I’m not sure over the next three games, I’m sure they’ll be in the squad because of the extra subtitutes in the squad. But for sure, they’re part of our future. Since we’ve came here, we’ve shown a real commitment to giving young players an opportunity and we’ve got someone in Daniel who backs young players and makes them better. Like I said, our productivity have gone through the roof since Steve Weaver arrived as academy manager and since Daniel arrived as head coach. The plan and how we’ve got these young players through have actually transformed what was definitely a failing academy based on the numbers of appearances and players sold and value for money etc. That’s been completely transformed, we’re now one of the best. When we started, our productivity was 82nd out of the 92 clubs, bearing in mind three or four of them don’t have academies. Now we’re up into the top 20 and that’s only going to grow.
It’s a big part of our strategy, as I’ve touched on, we can’t afford to buy the players that we need to be good enough to compete every weekend in the Premier League, so we’ve got to try and create them. Whether that’s recruiting young and developing them or whether that’s developing them and growing them within our own academy. That’s what we have to do to be competitive at that level, we have to try and grow our own players who are capable of playing in the Premier League. That’s extremely difficult, it takes a long time and it might not ever work but at the end of the day, we can only work with the tools that we’ve got. We have to try and find a way of making it work, we can’t just sit here and give up. It’s an exciting time for the academy and I’m extremely grateful for the work Steve and his staff have done because without the academy over the last three years, we’d have never got to the Premier League in the first place.
Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey, Jamal Lewis, Todd Cantwell are just a few of the young players which have been on this journey with the club. They’ve been linked with moves away over the past twelve months, what is the club’s stance on those players staying or leaving the club?
Fortunately, for the first time it’s in our hands. When I look back to when we sold Jacob Murphy in the first window, Josh [Murphy] and James Maddison in the next summer window, we were working with a gun to our head. We had to sell just to keep the club afloat, now we don’t ,and we’ve got all the weapons. It’s a case of if somebody goes, it will be on our terms. It will be for a lot of money, but also, we have to respect what these players have done. Not only the young players but also the senior players, they’ve worked hard for this club and they’ve achieved a mini miracle by getting to the Premier League. We couldn’t quite achieve staying there but we can’t forget what these boys have done for the club so far.
If there’s an offer which is right and the club is right for them, then we’ll give it the respect of listening to that. We have to be mindful there’s a COVID hole to fill and the longer it goes without supporters and TV rebates, the bigger that hole becomes. Financially, COVID has had a massive impact on all football clubs. We’re definitely not immune to that but fortunately for us, that’s going to be on our terms and at the time we want to do it as opposed to: “Oh my god, if we don’t do it by August, we’ll be in administration” or something like that.
You mentioned about the club being in a much better position financially. Could you clarify our position on budgets for next season when it comes to purchasing players?
Our record signing since we’ve been here has been £3.5 million, in three years for one player. Do I think we’ll beat that this year? Maybe. We’re fortunate that we can buy before we sell for the first time since Daniel and I have been here which is really nice. We’ve paid off the training ground and the bond back. We’ve cleared some of the debts if you like, so we’re in a really good place. Will we spend as much as our competitors in the Championship? Absolutely not. Leeds turned a signing permanent for £15 million recently, that’s not us. Although we’ll go down with parachute payments, that’s puts us in a really good position and enables us to develop a strong squad on the pitch, we’re still not going to be the biggest spenders.
We will have good room for a decent wage budget though, and that will help. What I would say is that it’s positive and certainly since I’ve been here, it’s the best position we’ve been in, going into the Championship and that enables us to be really competitive and have no excuses if you like. But let’s not get deluded into thinking we’re going to be the biggest spenders in that league because there’ll be a lot more spenders than us and clubs with owners who’ll continue to invest so it just doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed success.
People will always want to attribute a budget to a club being successful, but football doesn’t work like that. We wouldn’t have got promoted last year if football worked like that. Huddersfield wouldn’t have got promoted the season before if football worked like that. Leeds wouldn’t have spent 16 years in the Championship or whatever it is if football worked like that. What we can’t do is get too caught up in that but what I can reassure people is what’s exciting for us down here is that we can get our business done early, the model doesn’t change and it’s still young, hungry players that we can make better. That’s how we’ll do it, hopefully we afford to buy some slightly more readily hungry players as opposed to real gambles and I’ve got to say, that’s really exciting.
Just finally, on the boss – throughout his time here, he said he’s committed to the club and the project. Are you planning on sticking by him for next season?
Yeah, for sure. Daniel has two years left on his contract and, again, we’ve sent him into war without a gun. The club has to take some responsibility for that. It kills me in football when you see managers put up on this pedestal and everyone chucks rotten fruit at them by blaming them. At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough and we didn’t give him [Farke] a squad of players good enough to compete in the Premier League. I don’t care who was in charge of that squad, I think the end result would be the same.
So, in terms of backing Daniel, that’s not even a question for us. 100% we are. It’s for him to really think about whether it’s for him moving forward again. I truly believe it is and I believe he will think it is but at the same time, this job is very tiring in his position. He’s had three years of fire sales, trying to change a culture, trying to develop a way of playing and develop young players and trying to fight in the richest league in the world with spending £750,000. That’s tough for him and then all of the stick that comes his way, I ask people: “Please, just back off him and back off the players. Put it to me, blame us not him.” Daniel and the players need backing, not questioning their future or second guessing their future.
He’s got the hardest job in the club and I have huge respect for him and the way he’s carried himself, he’s never come out in the media and moaned. He doesn’t criticise the club’s strategy and criticise the club plan. He gets on with job, him and his staff work incredibly hard. I just ask for people at this time to have some respect. Don’t forget, the same people that are killing him now were the same 12 months ago who said: “If Webber lets him go, he should be shot.” He’s not turned into a bad manager or a coach overnight. If anything, he’ll be miles better for this experience. Now’s the time to back him, not question him.