Norwich City sporting director Stuart Webber has spoken about the 2020-21 Championship title-winning season and given his thoughts on the club’s position going into the Premier League.
You can watch the interview in full right here, or alternatively read the transcript below.
canaries.co.uk: In February you described the 2020-21 season at that point as 'better than expected' and it only went from strength to strength since then. What's your verdict now we've been promoted and won the title?
SW: An outstanding season, one that everyone should be really proud of - staff, Daniel, players and fans - everyone really. To beat the club record of points is massive, to put another trophy in the cabinet is big and we did it in relative style so everyone should be really pleased.
In what were incredibly hard circumstances, with the pandemic and relegation and all the things that we spoke about, everyone should be incredibly proud and I’m incredibly grateful for all the work that people have put in and how well they’ve done.
canaries.co.uk: One thing we won't be doing is getting carried away by winning the league. It's our job to prove it, but is there a feeling around the club that we should belong in the Premier League?
SW: I don’t think anyone should feel that they’ve got a divine right to be in the Premier League. It’s the hardest, biggest league in the world so our aim is to become established there, of course, but we know that’s going to be incredibly difficult.
What you’ve got is a group of people who are determined to give that a right good go and we’ve got to make some really good decisions. We probably need a bit of luck as well, that’s for sure, but that’s our aim and it’s our only aim. We won’t rest until we get somewhere near to achieving it.
canaries.co.uk: What has the club learned from the last Premier League experience and do you think those lessons will be beneficial heading into next year?
SW: Everyone learnt a lot. Everyone was two years younger and none of the staff had worked at that level before. Hardly any of the players had played at that level and certainly hadn’t in recent times.
There are endless amounts of lessons but one thing for sure we know is that we need to get our recruitment better. We need to keep players fit. The injury rate in the Premier League was too much.
We’ve got to give ourselves a fighting chance by having our best players available and by recruiting players that make the starting eleven better. That’s crucial.
canaries.co.uk: A good number of last season's signings made significant contributions throughout the campaign, so presumably you've been pleased with recruitment and will be looking for similar results from this summer's business.
SW: All the boys who came in last summer have made a big impact in their own way. Some have scored vitally important goals. Take Jordan [Hugill] and his winner at Rotherham with the penalty or his two against Bristol City.
Look at how Kieran [Dowell] came into the team late on after his injury and did great. Xavi [Quintilla] was good. [Dimitris] Giannoulis took us onto a new level, I felt. Ben Gibson was excellent. Oliver Skipp. They all did great and added their bit, even the younger guys like Bali [Mumba] and Jacob Sorensen, who filled in so well at left-back.
We got a lot of decisions right last summer which is great, but it’s about moving forward now and what happens this summer and in January, not looking too far back and patting ourselves on the back for last summer.
canaries.co.uk: Last summer, there was plenty of speculation surrounding our best players. Do you envisage the same this year and, if possible, could you reiterate the club's stance on offers coming in for our most sought-after talent?
SW: The beauty is we don’t have to sell, we don’t need to sell, but that doesn’t mean we won’t sell. If the right offer comes in for a player, we may choose to do it because it might help us then strengthen the squad in other areas.
If you can sell one and add two or three or four players, that’s something we have to consider, but it will be players sold on our terms, they’ll only be sold at club record prices. They won’t be less than that.
We also have to respect the player’s view as well. If a super club comes in, a massive club, then you have to respect that it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but at the same time, if all of our players are still here we’ll be absolutely delighted because it means the squad’s in a pretty strong place.
The key is we’re not naive. As a club, we bring players in, we develop them, we give them opportunities and sometimes they outgrow us such as what James Maddison, Ben Godfrey or Nathan Redmond did.
That may happen again with this summer, and with some players we will outgrow them. There’ll be some who leave the football club who we decide we no longer want and that’s football.
The most important thing is being prepared for that and I truly believe we’re much better prepared than we were last time.
"We’ll have a bit more to spend but it will be within our parameters."
canaries.co.uk: In terms of our recruitment into the club, how do you foresee that? In terms of finances too, is there more money available this time around?
SW: We’ve already spent a considerable sum on Giannoulis and Gibson, which we can’t forget. We’ll have more to spend, for sure, which isn’t hard really, but of course the pandemic has cost the club over 30 million so far so that’s a hole which will probably be filled with some of the Premier League money. That’s just a fact.
We should have great pride as a club and as a business that we’ve managed through this without redundancies, without massive changes. We’re still growing the club and doing things.
We’ll have a bit more to spend but it will be within our parameters. What we spend will still be considerably less than some of our competitors.
canaries.co.uk: One of our key strengths in the Championship has been responding to setbacks, avoiding lengthy periods of poor form. Does that resilience give you more optimism going into next season?
SW: Yeah, I think the boys and the staff have done brilliant with that. It’s brutal when you play every three days, really tough, and we’re going to need that strength next season because there could be a month where we lose four games in a row.
That can happen in the Premier League. I heard on the TV the other night that Burnley only had two points from their first seven games, for example. If the fixtures fall a little bit cruel, you can have games where you just end up losing, so that resilience is important.
That’s the benefit of being more experienced this time. We got promoted last time and had been used to winning every week and winning with a level of drama/style, and suddenly we went to the Premier League and started losing and for a lot of our players and staff it was a new experience.
They hadn’t been used to losing games. Football had maybe been quite easy up to that point, so I think that experience will really help us as well.
We must have a strong, resilient group of staff and players to achieve what we have done this season off the back of relegation. That doesn’t happen unless you’ve got those qualities.
canaries.co.uk: What have you made of the progress of the Academy this season with the likes of Andrew Omobamidele, Bali Mumba and Josh Martin taking places in the first-team squad? And are you excited by the talents in the Under-23s and Under-18s teams at the moment?
SW: One of the biggest, most pleasing things of this promotion is that we’ve won the league, but we’ve won the league still doing it our way with lots of Academy minutes. We’ve had five Academy debuts this season.
We’ve ended the last eight games with an 18-year-old playing one of the hardest positions to play at centre-back and that’s really pleasing.
We could have lost our nerves last summer and gone ‘right, let’s just sign a load of experienced players, we have to get promoted’, but we didn’t. We set our task of getting promoted but doing it our way and within how we do it so that was pleasing.
Huge compliments to Steve [Weaver] and all the staff within the Academy. They keep producing player after player. I got told this week that in the last twelve years, 82 percent of the minutes played by Academy players have come in the last four years.
That’s an incredible turnaround from what was a failing academy with built-in portacabins. We’re now sitting in an incredible room with world-class academy facilities, producing player after player, which is brilliant.
The challenge is now to keep that going, to keep producing better ones and keep producing more. That’s an exciting challenge because along the way we keep improving the infrastructure and the staffing levels so that it’s giving us every opportunity to become even more successful.
We want to be the best academy in the country because we can achieve that. There are certain things we can’t achieve because of incredible resources or because of the size of the club, but becoming the best academy is a realistic goal for us. We won’t stop until we achieve that.
canaries.co.uk: It's been one of the strangest and most challenging seasons thanks to the pandemic. We know how proud you are of the club's response to that. What will it mean to you to hopefully see Carrow Road at full capacity for the start of next season?
SW: I don’t think it means so much to me, but football needs it, the community needs it. It scares me that we’ve got a generation of young people who aren’t getting to watch live sport and live football.
My son, who’s five now, hasn’t been able to watch a live football match for 18 months and it concerns me because what if he decides he doesn’t like it? What if he decides he wants to, I don’t know, be into Peppa Pig or something instead? It would be a disaster.
It’s about getting people back and it’s going to be a special day when Carrow Road is full, but also when every ground in the country is full. This isn’t about Norwich City or our supporters, it’s about the greater of football.
We’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, with what’s gone on in the Super League and stuff, how much the game means to our country and the people within our country and that’s why we need them back.
There are so many people’s lives where football is their release, it’s their happiness, their safe play to go, their community, and it concerns me that there are a lot of people who haven’t had that sense of community.
Not having that can cause people to do stupid things, to get in trouble, to commit suicide and get to dark places. That’s where we need live sport and football back quickly, because the country relies on that, people rely on that, the mental health of people relies on that, on being able to watch their sport team.
We need to get them back and we need to get them back quickly.