In the search for the antidote to the untrammelled greed of the six billionaire owners who were ready to lay waste to English football a fortnight ago, it might be hard to improve on a symbol of the intelligent, diligent stewardship of one of our leading clubs that sits at one end of their first team training pitch. And no, it’s not the Dulux dog.

Behind one of the goals at Norwich City’s impressive new training centre, protected from errant shots by strategically placed netting, David, the club’s gardener, kneels in the earth tending to rows of broad beans, kale, leek and chard. ‘Posh spinach, basically,’ he says.

The food grown here and the butternut squash in the greenhouse will be used for soups and vegetarian meals by the cooks in the players’ canteen. It is a step towards sustainability. If Ed Woodward ran Norwich, he’d sign a new official concrete partner so he could fill in that vegetable patch and pave it over; everyone knows there’s no profit in chard. But they do things differently here.

Norwich are back in the big time and will be looking to prove their doubters wrong in the Premier League

Norwich are back in the big time and will be looking to prove their doubters wrong in the Premier League

Norwich and their new training centre is a symbol of the intelligent, diligent stewardship of one of our leading clubs

Norwich and their new training centre is a symbol of the intelligent, diligent stewardship of one of our leading clubs

Keeper Tim Krul is one of the cornerstones of Norwich's Championship promotion campaign

Keeper Tim Krul is one of the cornerstones of Norwich’s Championship promotion campaign

At the behest of their highly rated sporting director, Stuart Webber, Norwich recently became the first English club to invest in the revolutionary football simulator, the £750,000 Soccerbot 360, and it will be installed on the other side of the main building at the training centre ready for the start of next season.

Webber, 37, researched the technology when he visited the then RB Leipzig director of football, Ralf Rangnick, in Germany. Rangnick is a proponent of the Soccerbot 360, which features a circular pitch surrounded by video walls on to which a series of projectors beam simulations of match scenarios. A player stands in the centre and makes passes towards the video wall with a football, which bounces back at them, developing reaction speed and decision-making.

There are plans, too, for two high-tech new swimming pools on the site to aid player recovery and fitness. There is a feeling here of a club who are more interested in details than dollars, even though they have to work hard to make their money go further. 

Since Webber arrived, there is also a feeling of a club always moving forward, always looking to innovate, always looking to provide the best environment for their players.

At the behest of sporting director, Stuart Webber, Norwich recently became the first English club to invest in the revolutionary football simulator

At the behest of sporting director, Stuart Webber, Norwich recently became the first English club to invest in the revolutionary football simulator

Norwich were accused by some of a lack of ambition the last time they were promoted to the Premier League because they refused to spend money they did not have. 

They still had debts and they stuck to their principles and decided they did not want to risk the future of the club to pay, say, £8million to take Tammy Abraham on loan. Clubs like Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and Sunderland went down a different road.

The criticism aimed at Norwich seems especially misguided now that we can see, in the shape of the desperation of clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona to reap extra cash from the creation of the European Super League, exactly where profligacy and excess can lead. Norwich have eliminated their debt and are bouncing back from the Championship healthier and more confident than ever.

Goalkeeper Tim Krul, one of the cornerstones of Norwich’s Championship promotion campaign this season and the kind of player who exemplifies the idea that signings at a club need to be about character as well as talent, smiles at the mention of the vegetable patch. ‘I went over to look at it this morning actually,’ he says. ‘Little things like that sum up the values of the club. You don’t see that very often.

Webber researched the technology when he visited former RB Leipzig director Ralf Rangnick

Webber researched the technology when he visited former RB Leipzig director Ralf Rangnick

‘I arrived here three years ago and it was very different then. The training ground was just a lot of Portakabins. You should have seen the gym. It is on two floors now and it is state of the art but when I first signed, it was in a little conservatory. I will never forget it: I was doing my leg weights and there was rain coming through the roof and there were buckets on the floor positioned to catch all the leaks.

‘Now, we have one of the best training grounds in the country. It’s been amazing to be part of that journey. I have signed a couple of contract extensions here already. The club is doing a real life Football Manager.’

The club has a fine manager, too, in Daniel Farke and they sealed promotion back to the Premier League a fortnight ago after a season in the Championship and clinched the title yesterday with a victory over Reading. Norwich went straight back down the last time they made it to the top flight. The club are confident that will not happen again.

Partly, that is because players who were young and inexperienced at the start of last season and went into matches at cathedrals like Old Trafford and Anfield wide-eyed and awestruck, have come of age. They have been hardened by relegation and buoyed by the achievement of battling their way out of the Championship at the first opportunity.

Rub of the greens: The vegetable patch at Norwich's impressive training centre

Rub of the greens: The vegetable patch at Norwich’s impressive training centre

Krul, 33, is one of the leaders of the team now and the confidence on the ball he has exhibited at Norwich is one of the reasons why he is in pole position to be Holland’s starting keeper at the Euros this summer. ‘The big message of the club last summer was go away on holiday and come back hungry to prove people wrong and go again,’ he says. ‘They promised there would be a squad good enough to go straight back up and they kept their promise.

‘The first four games, there were people being linked with big teams and they had to get their head back in the Championship but the values stayed the same throughout. The first four games, we had four points and we were 20th. Then we won a couple and went on an amazing run. It’s a great league but you want to get out of it quickly.

‘We’re in a better position to succeed in the Premier League now. We did not have much experience last season but now we won’t be going to Old Trafford any more thinking ‘Oh goodness’. When I was at Newcastle, I remember being on the bench as a 17-year-old at Anfield and I saw Steven Gerrard warming up and the way he was striking the ball and I thought ‘Whoa, I’m not quite ready for this yet’.

The club has a fine manager in Daniel Farke, and his side have sealed their top-flight return

The club has a fine manager in Daniel Farke, and his side have sealed their top-flight return

‘And the boys here were chucked in the deep end last season. The first game of last season at Anfield, I looked around me and I could see some of the lads looking across at Van Dijk, Mane and Salah and then you hear You’ll Never Walk Alone and I could see…yeah. We were 4-0 down after 42 minutes. We went on a better run after that but we didn’t quite have the belief last season.’

Partly, it is because Norwich are a club run how you wish your club were run. They are controlled by Delia Smith and her husband, Michael Wynn-Jones, beneficent owners who clearly care about the club and the fans rather than seeing it — like Stan Kroenke, John W Henry, Joel Glazer et al — as a vehicle for them to make a few dollars more.

And partly, it is because much of what Norwich do on and off the pitch is guided by Webber, who has built a reputation as one of the most talented and shrewd operators in his position in the English game. His fingerprints are all over every aspect of the Norwich revival, from overseeing the construction of the training ground to clever player recruitment, to player motivation, to the refurbishment of the canteen and, yes, the vegetable garden.

Krul says Norwich were chucked in the deep end last season, with their first game at Anfield

Krul says Norwich were chucked in the deep end last season, with their first game at Anfield

Debt-free, Norwich are the model for upwardly mobile aspirational football clubs the EFL and the Premier League should be championing. It is also the kind of club the Dirty Dozen of the ill-conceived European Super League would have destroyed without a backwards glance.

There is no point disguising that. It is one of the reasons there is still so much anger about what the six billionaire owners of English clubs involved in the breakaway tried to do. The day after the ESL plans were announced, Norwich were told the next tranche of their payments were being suspended. They were reinstated as soon as the ESL collapsed.

It does not take a genius to work out that the advent of the ESL would have ripped the heart out of the Premier League’s television deal. At Norwich, they knew what it would have meant: as the Big Six English teams increasingly prioritised the ESL, Norwich suspected they would have found themselves facing a club’s Under-23s many weeks.

The credibility of the Premier League would have been destroyed. It would have become the new FA Cup, a competition where the big clubs play their B-teams against so-called lesser sides. Clubs like Norwich and Brighton, models of well-run clubs at the heart of their communities, would have suffered most grievously of all.

Norwich is a club controlled by Delia Smith (front) and ¿husband, Michael Wynn-Jones (back)

Norwich is a club controlled by Delia Smith (front) and ‎husband, Michael Wynn-Jones (back)

But now the ESL plans have collapsed, Norwich can look forward to the future with optimism again. They have a clutch of bright stars like Emi Buendia, Teemu Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons, who have attracted attention from bigger clubs and, even though they are eager to hang on to as many of them as possible, they are ready to embrace pragmatism, too.

If they can get a big fee for Buendia, say, who is near the top of the Championship charts in goals and assists and who has attracted rave reviews all season, then maybe they will cash in so that they can strengthen the team elsewhere. Aarons was linked with Barcelona at the start of the season. He, too, is likely to be the target of interest from other clubs.

‘Next season, why can’t we do what Leeds have done this season?’ says Krul. ‘I mean, look at Villa, too. Two years ago, we were in the Championship with them. It is normal to have people saying we weren’t good enough last season and they are right. Of course we have to tweak things. We are not stupid.

‘I might have to decide to go a bit more direct sometimes when I have the ball at my feet rather than playing it out from the back. But we’ve played some amazing football by sticking to what we know. The last game against QPR, there were a few moves there, even with Holland, I’ve not seen something like that. It’s exciting. We have got some great talent here and hopefully we can keep our stars and have a proper crack at it next season.’

They have a clutch of bright stars like Emi Buendia (left) and right-back Max Aarons (right)

They have a clutch of bright stars like Emi Buendia (left) and right-back Max Aarons (right)

Krul sees no reason why Norwich cannot replicate what Aston Villa and Leeds have done in the Premier League

Krul sees no reason why Norwich cannot replicate what Aston Villa and Leeds have done in the Premier League



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