My local team Norwich City are doing a lot of things right. They currently lead the race for Premiership status, are holding onto players chased by bigger clubs and have found themselves worthy of an article in the Financial Times. Collectively it shows the club has navigated the journey from a very precarious financial state to something more stable and strategically guided.
As the Financial Times observes Norwich occupy a difficult place in football’s hierarchy being a ‘yo-yo club’ that is “too lean for the big league, too fat for the lower tiers.” It means both an exciting (and frustrating) roller-coaster for fans and a high risk of a financial boom quickly becoming bust for those managing. For some fans a billionaire benefactor will be seen as the obvious remedy, but I am very comfortable with the fact that Norwich has recognised that competing for Champion League places is neither an affordable or sustainable goal.
Emi Buendia, our remarkable Argentinian midfielder joined for an initial fee of £1.5m. He is likely to cost his next club more than £40m.
With realism and clarity Norwich City can sharply focus on establishing a long-term model that can mitigate the disadvantage of lower spending and hopefully secure a sustained presence in the Premier League. Critical to success is smarter recruitment and superior player development – capabilities that have been developed since the arrival of Sporting Director Stuart Webber. The Norwich squad that gained promotion to the Premiership in 2019 cost around £6m. Two squad members, Jamal Lewis and Ben Godfrey have since been sold for around £40m.
The 360 Soccerbot simulates game scenarios with a camera detecting how players solve situations. It then analyses and benchmarks performance.
Recruitment however remains part-lottery so I am encouraged that Norwich is the first UK club to have acquired the Soccerbot 360 technology. The system costing £750,000 apparently can measure and benchmark the “cognitive abilities” of players in an environment that replicates a real pitch. Decision-making is clearly a critical capability in a business where success depends on the performance of 20 or so employees but will be more difficult to assess than technical skills or physical strength. So, more objectively must therefore help selection and improvement. Whether it makes a big or small difference it demonstrates a club acting quickly and decisively to establish some competitive advantage in player acquisition and capability development. Despite the shadow of Covid and the push for promotion Norwich is building for the longer term.
As a supporter I think I am lucky. As a business strategist I am impressed.