Daniel Farke - The Coaching Success Story
When Norwich City were relegated to the Championship in 2016, they maintained much of the on and off-field personnel that had been present for the promotion the year before, to push for an instant return to the Premier League.
That did not work and it became clear that, due to overspending and poor recruitment, the ageing squad was not as strong as it was two years earlier; manager Alex Neil was dismissed in the second half of that campaign as the club sought a change of direction.
To take the burden off owners Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones, the club appointed a Sporting Director in Stuart Webber, who had kick-started Huddersfield’s rise.
Webber’s openness and honesty has made him a refreshing figure to have around the club – and his head coach of choice was Daniel Farke.
The then-Dortmund II coach arrived with rave reviews, with some claiming him to be even more impressive than successor David Wagner, who had led Huddersfield to promotion.
For that reason, Farke’s first season in charge of the Canaries was slightly underwhelming.
The Autumn eight-game unbeaten run had come due to a pragmatic style of play, while a lot of the victories in that campaign had been a 1-0 away win due to a moment of magic from James Maddison; neither of those things pointed to a movement towards a clear playing identity.
Much of the football was stale and one-paced with Maddison taking on too much of the creative burden.
The decline of mainstays like Russ Martin and Wes Hoolahan meant question marks were asked about the leadership in the club, with Farke perceived by some, fairly or otherwise, to be lacking the passion and in-game nous to change matches that were not going his side’s way.
The board, however, along with an admirably large proportion of the fanbase, stood by Farke; perhaps they had scaled down short-term expectations, perhaps they saw something special in what he was doing on the training field, maybe a bit of both.
In any case, the club showed great courage to stick with their project and have since been rewarded by the German’s ability to develop young players remarkably quickly.
Key man Maddison and speedy winger Josh Murphy were sold to Leicester and Cardiff respectively for a combined fee of approximately £31 million, while the club re-invested a small proportion of that money very sensibly – a combination of top coaching and top recruitment has been crucial.
They brought in Teemu Pukki and Moritz Leitner – albeit the latter spent the second half of last season on loan prior to signing permanently. The duo have had tangible success in their careers, but had seen their value become reduced and availability increased due to being affected by mitigating circumstances such as culture at other clubs and style of play – the improved quality of coaching at Carrow Road combined with a positive mentality has clearly helped both.
Pukki was signed on a free transfer from Brondby and has been a revelation for the team 5/4 with Betway to win at Millwall next time out. The Fin presses tenaciously and, by making selfless runs in the build-up play, he often ends up not getting marked at the end of moves and thus has got into key areas to provide finishing touches, bagging 23 league goals this term.
Leitner, a Champions League finalist with Dortmund in 2013, collects the ball from the defence and distributes superbly; although his recent absence has seen Mario Vrancic and Tommy Trybull form an excellent midfield pairing, as we saw in the recent 3-1 win at Leeds.
Crucially though, Farke’s work on the training ground has eventually led to a higher tempo, which is partly down to the introduction of young, energetic full-backs.
18-year-old Max Aarons has taken the Championship by storm this term through his lung-busting runs down the right, while 20-year-old Jamal Lewis links up intelligently with the powerful Marco Stiepermann and the tricky Onel Hernandez on the left.
Another key influence is Emiliano Buendia, a low-cost, wildcard addition from Getafe, who has mastered not just the exquisite interplay including delicate dinked through balls in behind, he has also displayed the aggression without the ball required to endear himself to natives.
It would be wrong to say that Farke has changed his principles, because his side have scored several crucial late goals this season and many of them have come through them sticking to Plan A and picking their way through their opponents.
While the Yellows have not changed this season in terms of being a possession-based side, they have been transformed in terms of the pace and intensity with which they execute that possession play.
Sometimes, a bit of faith in a coach through challenging times can go a long way.