The appointment of Stuart Webber as Sporting Director is a promising step for Norwich City

Alec Blatherwick

Announced prior to kick-off last Saturday, and something which was perhaps slightly overshadowed by the rarity of Norwich winning, were the initial details of the club “restructuring” that was promised by Ed Balls following the dismissal of Alex Neil two weeks ago.

Within this new structure, three new roles were announced: ‘Managing Director’, ‘Sporting Director’ and ‘Head Coach’. The ‘Manager Director’ and the ‘Sporting Director’ are to fill the void left by the departure of Jez Moxey as Chief Executive, with the former focusing on the business side of things and the latter “overseeing football operations”. A key aspect of said footballing operations is recruitment and Ed Balls gave the impression that the Sporting Director would play a primary role in identifying, and appointing, City’s new Head Coach. In other words, anyone hoping that Alex Neil’s successor will be appointed quickly are likely to be disappointed – we haven’t even appointed the man responsible for choosing him yet!

Whilst it remains to be decided who will fulfil the roles of Sporting Director and Head Coach, it has been announced that Steve Stone, City’s ex-Director of Finance, is going to be the Managing Director. Since the departure of Moxey in February, Stone has been filling in as interim-CEO and by all accounts has come across favourably with the various fan groups that he has interacted with. In his first interview since being appointed, he placed heavy emphasis on his desire to engage and improve relations with the City fans. Under Moxey such engagement was non-existent and supporters were largely treated as an inconvenience. Under Stone, however, things should improve.

In terms of the Sporting Director, reports have emerged in recent days suggesting that Huddersfield Town’s current ‘Head of Football Operations’, Stuart Webber, is in the frame. By all accounts, the appointment of Webber could be an extremely promising one. Joining Huddersfield in 2015, the 33-year-old was a crucial piece of the jigsaw which has seen the Terriers transform into a promotion-chasing side, playing some of the most attractive football in the Championship. He was believed to have played an important role in bringing David Wagner to the club – a manager who is now one of the most highly-rated in English football – as well as identifying a whole host of new players, such as the hugely impressive Elias Kachunga and Aaron Moy. During his two years at the club, Huddersfield signed an astonishing 20 players and, as such, he clearly has experience in conducting the type of squad overhaul that many City fans are hoping for this summer.

So, with the Managing Director in place and, according to the local Norfolk press, Webber set to be announced as Sporting Director over the next couple of days, this leaves just one, all-important clog to fill: Head Coach. Perhaps the most significant thing to emerge from the restructuring is that Alex Neil’s successor will have far less influence, and far less freedom to act, than he had. As such, any manager that we bring in will have to be willing to work in tandem with the Sporting Director and accept that he may have a lesser role than at his former club, or, alternatively we could go down the European route – like Webber did with Wagner – where managers are used to, and accept, the Head Coach model.

Whilst I feel that there is risk involved – there always is in football – it is nice to see the club making a genuine effort to pioneer a completely new approach. For far too long, City have stuck with the traditionalist route – old owners, no foreign investment, British managers, standard structure – and whilst the first two (and maybe first three) still remain the same, it is nice to see a semblance of modernity and a fresh lease of life injected into the club in terms of the latter.

Now, if Webber could possibly persuade Wagner to follow him to Norfolk, then we really would be set…

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