Despite losing both regular league fixtures against their opponents, Norwich City swept aside Middlesbrough in Monday’s Championship play-off final and will be back in the Premier League next season after just a year away.
Having previously looked at the summer ahead for automatically promoted sides Bournemouth and Watford, the latter of whom have since incredibly let manager Slavisa Jokanovic leave the club, it’s now time to see what the future holds for Alex Neil and The Canaries.
THE CURRENT CROP
On reflection, it looks hugely significant that the club was able to keep hold of the vast majority of its key men following relegation last season. Leroy Fer and Player of the Season Robert Snodgrass were the most notable to leave Carrow Road but the Norwich board were paid handsomely for the pair – a combined total of £15m – which together with the first of new record-breaking parachute payments left the club with plenty to invest back into the team.
Strikers Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban were signed last summer and both performed well this season, with 21 and 12 goals respectively. Jerome excelled on his own up front in the play-off final, and he will be out to prove he can cut it at Premier League level. The former Stoke City forward only passed the 10-goal mark once in the six previous top flight seasons he has played, and in the last campaign Jerome netted just twice while on loan at Crystal Palace under Tony Pulis, but unlike that side Norwich play with a wealth of support for their lone striker so if Alex Neil backs his team enough to keep that set up in a higher division then Jerome should get some joy in front of goal.
In addition to Jerome and Grabban’s goals were another dozen from Gary Hooper and more remarkably 15 from midfielder Bradley Johnson, who had scored just six in the previous three years spent with Norwich. It’s unclear if Johnson can maintain this new found knack for goalscoring back in the Premier League but it suggests an improved player since the relegation year, which is exactly what Norwich fans and staff alike would have wanted to see from those players kept on for this campaign. The Canaries were the lowest scorers in the Premier League in the year they were relegated and so the wealth of goals this season across the team should be most encouraging.
At the other end of the pitch, what is interesting about Norwich’s defensive record is that a fair number of their clean sheets this season came against sides immediately surrounding them at the top of the table. Alex Neil’s tenure included shut-outs against Watford, Wolves, fierce rivals Ipswich Town and of course Middlesbrough, which suggests they have what it takes to protect a lead against strong opponents, as they will almost certainly have to next season. Sebastian Bassong spent time on loan at Watford earlier in the campaign but the centre back finished the season in the Canaries defence after Neil brought him back, and he has been known to excel at top flight level in previous seasons, while goalkeeper John Ruddy received plenty of plaudits during his time in the Premier League which provides promise for next term.
It’s still only a few days since promotion was confirmed so we’re still to discover which potential new additions Norwich have lined up, but it’s safe to assume they had a preliminary list prepared before the play-off win so as to not lag too far behind other clubs. While they have the structure and funds available to spend relatively heavily it’s unlikely that Norwich will look to add across the first team, with the likes of Nathan Redmond and Jonny Howson able to take much wisdom from their previous Premier League experiences. Graham Dorrans was brought in on loan from West Bromwich Albion for the last few months of the season and he is set to be kept on a permanent basis, offering direct competition to Wes Hoolahan. There is the temptation to go for a big-money striker, but the club may still feel stung by the Ricky van Wolfswinkel signing from their last top flight adventure (who may yet return to the club, after a year on loan in France) and opt for what they have until January at least.
Much has been made of Alex Neil’s rapid ascension in management, but the 33 year-old has taken it all in his stride and he will be relishing an opportunity in the Premier League. Taking Hamilton Academical from the Scottish second tier to winning at Celtic to go top of the SPL is an incredible feat for any manager on the planet and the move to Norwich has not just shown to be a well-earned decision but also the right one by the club. It may not have been in front of 25,000 people every week, but there’s nothing to suggest his skills in Scotland won’t suddenly be useless among the English elite, especially since his squad clearly responds to his methods. There are still many lessons to be learned in the game for Neil but where better to test your skills then against one of the strongest leagues in the world? Nobody will be betting on the former Barnsley player maintaining his 68% win ratio since joining Norwich in January, but survival is enough in the first season for a promoted side and there’s nothing to suggest a summer of chaos ahead that would leave them unable to compete against the bottom seven or eight in the Premier League.
How do you think Norwich will get on next season? Who should they sign in the summer? Let us know on Twitter @jdfootball