- Former Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner has been named as Norwich’s new head coach after the sacking of Smith following their 2-1 defeat away to Luton Town on Boxing Day
- Life under Dean Smith was far from joyous for the Norwich City faithful. The 51-year-old had won just three games out of his final 13 matches with the Canaries.
- Wagner is certainly no stranger to English football and guided Huddersfield to the Premier League back in 2017. He was then able to guide the Terriers to safety during the 2017/18 campaign, finishing in 16th.
Norwich City sporting director Stuart Webber has a close relationship with Wagner after he brought the American-German manager in to manage Huddersfield back in 2015 and the pair will reunite here as they seek promotion to the English top flight once more.
Results took a hit at Carrow Road for Smith towards the end of his tenure, picking up just one home win in his last seven at home, and despite the former Aston Villa boss coming to Norwich at a difficult time in November 2021, he made very little attempt from the off to try and connect with the fans.
The relationship increasingly soured towards the end, with Smith making some rather outlandish comments in the press, alongside a poor run of form and a bland style of play. It was clear he had already checked out of the club mentally, even if he hadn’t physically left.
Since Smith’s sacking, Norwich have dropped to 11th in the Championship table. Nonetheless, the Canaries remain just three points off the play-off spots and Wagner will be tasked to help return the club back to the Premier League.
Club culture and fan relations
A clear contrast between the two previous head coaches at Norwich was their connection with the fans. Daniel Farke was a hero amongst Canaries fans, with supporters frequently singing about his stints on horseback, whilst also praising the likes of Tim Krul and Emiliano Buendia alongside the German boss. The rapport between Smith and the fans couldn’t have been more distant.
Wagner will have to get off to a good start, especially with the supporters, to try and build up the feel-good factor around the club again. Typically, that is when Norwich prosper and a good relationship between the fans and the head coach will be fundamental to their success.
Webber needed to do something similar at Huddersfield back in 2015 and trusted Wagner to change the culture at the club. This time, he’s turned to the same man.
During his time as Huddersfield boss, Wagner took his players to Sweden for a bonding tour, with a focus on taking the players out of their comfort zones during a survival camp.
Ultimately, it vastly improved the connections between the squad and they would then go on to achieve promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs, with a number of squad members citing the trip to Scandinavia as being an important factor in building team cohesion.
It certainly proves that Wagner may have a few tricks up his sleeve to build a harmonious squad and one that can prosper as a unit, something that has been absent for Norwich so far this term.
The financials and recruitment
According to Michael Bailey of The Athletic, Wagner will have limited resources in the transfer market. Norwich are unlikely to see any serious movement in the January market, with the club already having spent their parachute payments for the next two years on previous acquisitions.
Both Gabriel Sara and Marcelino Nunez were purchased for a combined total of around £13 million ahead of this year’s campaign, whilst the Canaries also forked out over £50 million in the summer leading up to their last season in the top flight.
That also incurred some costly loan fees for the likes of Mathias Normann and Ozan Kabak, as well as spending around £20 million on both Christos Tzolis and Milot Rashica who are currently not at the club. The former made just 14 appearances in the Premier League before being loaned out to FC Twente, whilst the latter recorded just four goal contributions before heading to Galatasaray on loan in September.
Clearly, recruitment prior to Norwich’s Premier League campaign was inadequate and has also done little to help them this term following their relegation.
However, the feeling around the club is that the squad is good enough to compete this term, despite their woes. January may see some more loan deals, as seen in the past for Norwich as they aim to plug some holes in the winter market.
With them both being German and learning their trade at Borussia Dortmund, it would be daft not to see the similarities between Farke and Wagner.
Perhaps the Norwich board regretted the decision to sack Farke and have now opted for a man of similar ilk. Although, that is easier said in hindsight.
A look at Wagner’s recent history is not the best of reads for Norwich fans and he has struggled at both of his previous jobs with Schalke and BSC Young Boys. The 51-year-old failed to achieve above a 50% win percentage at either club and didn’t even complete a full season with the Swiss outfit.
His time in charge at Young Boys was a failure and they were unable to win the Swiss Super League during the 2021/22 season, the only time they have not done so in the past five seasons. Despite Matteo Vanetta taking charge for the remainder of the campaign, Wagner had still overseen proceedings up until March.
The most recent experiences on the CV do not bode well for Wagner but his success in England will have given him enough pedigree to get the job. Of course, his close bond with Webber would also have helped in the matter.
As Huddersfield boss, Wagner imposed an energetic style of football. Fitness levels had dropped significantly for the Norwich players under Smith and that will likely increase once more, similarly to how life was under Farke.
Wagner’s philosophy will centre around high energy and pressing and could help breathe life into an abject and desolate Norwich side, whilst likely maintaining the 4-2-3-1 system.
Can Wagner be a success?
Huddersfield’s promotion to the top flight in 2017 and survival in the Premier League in 2018 was down to the hard work that Wagner had achieved with his players and smart decisions. He wasn’t given free rein with a cheque book just as we've seen with the likes of Fulham and Bournemouth in the past, and this will be a similar situation at Norwich.
Wagner’s experience in England will give Canaries fans hope that he is the man to turn their fortunes around and emulate the success of Farke, but it is not a guarantee. One thing is for certain though, he has to get the fans on side and fast.
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