Norwich City, Watford decline but Fulham, Rotherham come of age in season of broken yo-yos
It’s the end of an era as four renowned yo-yo clubs – Fulham, Norwich City, Watford and Rotherham United – have all binned their scripts this season.
For Fulham and Rotherham, this is a timely and deserved twist that is a reward for learning from past mistakes. Yet for Norwich and Watford – who have been made to settle for mid-table mediocrity in the Championship – it is a warranted punishment for failing to progress past their recurring off-field misdemeanours.
I admittedly look pretty foolish for going for Fulham as one of my three pre-season picks for relegation as Marco Silva’s side have been a joy in the Premier League.
In their previous two seasons in the top flight, the Cottagers went down with a whimper, stumbling to 26 points in 2018/19 and then just 28 in 2020/21.
In 18/19, Fulham haphazardly spent £100m on new signings (including Jean Michael Seri, Frank Anguissa and Andre Schurrle) and went through three managers (Slavisa Jokanovic, Claudio Ranieri and Scott Parker). A recipe for disaster that played out as expected.
Parker – who has since been outed as quite a sh*t manager – was kept on during the 20/21 behind-closed-doors season and managed just five wins in what was a sorry campaign for the club.
His successor – Silva – has taken his second (third?) chance in the Premier League after he failed to amend the downward momentum at Hull and Everton.
Anyone doubting his capabilities have been silenced this season and he has been helped by Fulham’s inspired recruitment. Andreas Pereira, Bernd Leno and Willian have resurrected their careers at Craven Cottage, while Joao Palhinha has been their player of the season.
Silva’s work for the top-half outfit places him among the manager of the season contenders and the whole club needs commending for finding a footing in the Premier League after a ten-year wait.
There are many players deemed too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. Ex-Norwich striker Cameron Jerome is one such example and the Canaries have been the club version of that trope for four years until this campaign.
After earning 94-plus points in two title-winning seasons in the second tier, Norwich followed that with two 20th-placed finishes in the Premier League that resulted in them failing to surpass 22 points.
Long-term manager Daniel Farke was present during the majority of this period and Dean Smith was tasked with pulling off an almighty salvage job last season, but the ex-Aston Villa was unable to upturn their fortunes.
The Canaries took the pretty puzzling decision to let Smith stick around for their return to the Championship and they fared just about as poorly as West Brom under Steve Bruce, who by now is well past his sell-by date as a head coach.
Smith’s replacement – David Wagner – initially had Norwich on track for the play-offs but a miserable end to the season saw the eventual 13th-place finishers win just one of their last 11 league games.
Norwich were due a season of mediocrity after the disastrous nature of two of their last four seasons and with legendary goalscorer Teemu Pukki leaving in the summer, it is time for a rebuild at Carrow Road. Given how the club ended this season, Wagner is unlikely to be the manager who sees out this process.
Since Silva’s brief but successful reign as Watford boss during the 2017/18 campaign, only two of their next ten permanent managers have surpassed 30 games in charge.
This is a possible explanation for their downfall in recent months, but the Pozzo family’s sacking formula has also brought them a lot of success. They outdid themselves in 2013/14 as they earned promotion to the Premier League in the same season they went through four managers.
Such achievements are bound to give owners a false sense of security but recent evidence suggests the Pozzo family’s approach is not as foolproof as they would like to think.
The fruitless trios of Munoz-Ranieri-Hodgson and Edwards-Bilic-Wilder have overseen two torrid campaigns that led to Watford crashing back down to earth with quite the bump.
Watford have been impacted by injuries more than most this season but that is not an excuse for their squad not being of the required standard to battle for promotion.
While Rob Edwards was not given the time to prove himself at Watford, the subsequent woes of Slaven Bilic and Chris Wilder owed more to the fundamental failings of the club rather than the managers themselves.
Ex-West Brom and Barnsley boss Valerien Ismael is apparently going to be next through the door. His task is an unenviable one and with star player Joao Pedro already gone (before Ismaila Sarr likely follows him), he will need the backing of a board that falls short far too often in that regard.
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On the final day of the season at Wigan, the Millers’ goalless draw nudged them onto 50 points and it sealed a 19th-place finish, thus securing them Championship survival for the first time since Neil Warnock saved them in 2015/16.
Rotherham – as they always are – were favourites to go down in a league where they are among the lowest spenders.
A strong start to the campaign could have been undone when long-term boss Paul Warne jumped ship to join Derby County. A club built around their previous manager’s image was now searching for a fresh voice and they settled on Matt Taylor, who was coming off promotion with Exeter City.
Taylor has not had it all his own way. Before the January transfer window opened, the Millers were sleepwalking into a relegation scrap with a squad lacking players of Championship quality.
In previous seasons, Rotherham did not act when their squad needed new faces in January and that resulted in their demise. But under an assertive head coach in Taylor, the club brought in eight new players in the winter window. While each signing made a positive impact in some way, Jordan Hugill, Tariqe Fosu and Conor Coventry were the standouts.
The Millers have previously faded away during the run-in as their small squad was exposed by the rigours of the Championship. But these additions – plus the immense trio of Viktor Johansson, Cameron Humphreys and Ollie Rathbone – enabled Rotherham to pick up the points they needed to overcome their personal hoodoo and stay in the Championship.
While a busy summer of recruitment is necessary, the South Yorkshire outfit can head into Taylor’s first full campaign in charge brimming with optimism, which is helped by having the enviable spine of Johansson, Humphreys, Rathbone and Hugill to build next season’s side around. Securing their survival will be the aim again, but the Millers have the necessary ingredients to kick on and begin to look towards mid-table.
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