Need to know: Norwich
Five things to know about Norwich going into the 2013-14 English
Premier League season:
NEED MORE GOALS
Lack of goals almost cost Norwich its hard-earned Premier League
status last season. With two games left, Norwich had scored just 34
times and was flirting with relegation. Two wins and seven more
goals secured a flattering 11th-place finish.
Manager Chris Hughton has since spent a combined 13.5 million
pounds ($21 million) on forwards – that’s 13.5 million more than
Arsenal – to avoid another tense finale. Responsibility falls on
Netherlands international Ricky van Wolfswinkel, a club record
signing from Sporting Lisbon, and Englishman Gary Hooper, who
arrived from Celtic.
For the first time since 2009, Norwich is without talismanic
striker and captain Grant Holt, who joined second-tier Wigan. The
one-time tire fitter defied his many doubters by firing Norwich to
two promotions, guided by manager Paul Lambert, and a mid-table
Premier League finish in 2011-12. Holt’s 15 goals then prompted
talk of joining England’s European Championship squad. Under the
more defensively minded Hughton, Holt could seem disinterested and
tested fans’ faith even as his eight goals proved crucial. At
Carrow Road, swapping out Holt with van Wolfswinkel is seen as
necessary as the team matures.
Holt typified the honest virtues of Norwich’s unlikely recent
rise: mostly British, team-first personalities, with many having
spent time at semi-professional clubs outside of England’s four
established divisions. Even today, six of Hughton’s squad –
including Hooper and club captain Russell Martin – have played in
the so-called non-League ranks.
Norwich has tried to sweeten its style with high-class additions
– van Wolfswinkel, Dutch midfielder Leroy Fer and England Under-21
attacker Nathan Redmond – without losing an identity which served
the club well. More pace and creativity, without losing the
defensive solidity which kept 10 clean sheets last season, is
needed to take Norwich higher.
Norwich would be runaway champions if the Premier League was
decided by TV ratings and book sales scored by club directors. The
majority shareholder since 1996 is Delia Smith, the long-reigning
queen of British television chefs. She later recruited Stephen Fry,
the actor, writer, wit and gay rights activist who has recently
been a prominent critic of Russia’s anti-gay legislation ahead of
the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Fry is as likely to regale his 6 million-plus Twitter followers
with Norwich match updates as rallying cries against Russia’s
Vladimir Putin. Both Smith and Fry are genuine, long-standing fans
who live locally. In a league of teams owned by absentee American
billionaires, Russian oligarchs and Arab sheiks, Norwich stands out
as a club which is of and about its community. And no other English
team wears yellow and green.
DEBT-FREE – TIME TO EXPAND?
Norwich is a rarity among European football clubs – effectively
debt-free. The cozy Carrow Road stadium holds a little more than
27,000 spectators, and 22,000 are season ticket holders – more than
AC Milan has. There’s a waiting list to secure a seat and Norwich
has long wanted to expand capacity. The current main stand was
built after a major fire in 1984 and seems too modest in an era of
multi-billion-dollar television deals. Still, Norwich needs to
maintain Premier League status to justify the investment and avoid
a potential financial tailspin.
A fast start from Hughton’s side this season, and fans may see
the height of Delia & Co’s ambitions.