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The Roker Ramble: What the Farke is going on at Norwich?

Pukki Blinders, opulent dug-out displays, child exploitation, battle of the beards, Unai Emery - a man alone, and managers outtakes... it’s this week’s Roker Ramble.

Norwich City v Chelsea FC - Premier League
Daniel Farke reacts to news that John Stones is back in the Man City side.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

So, in the race to be top of the top two, it was Pep’s side that blinked first as they went down to a Norwich team, eight players bereft of complete, and though aided by some comedic defending on behalf of City, were more than a match for their more illustrious opponents.

But that wasn’t the only thing that caught the eye, and it’s something that I’ve noticed before about Carrow Road this season... it’s their dugout.

They’ve a new sponsor – and their dugouts are absolutely plastered with stickers or bunting in bright yellow saying ‘Best Fiend’ over and over, giving it the impression of a vandalised bus shelter.

It’s true that they don’t have the strange man urinating in a dark corner, but a shaggy Daniel Farke hanging around outside as if he’s waiting for the 124 to Parkside only adds to the image.

Norwich City v Manchester City - Premier League
Leading the crowd in a version of the Finnish Hokey-Cokey.
Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images

Compare that to the palatial surroundings of the new Spurs dugout with its black leather armchairs and subtle Audi sponsorship - the difference couldn’t be more pronounced.

Roy Hodgson certainly looked pretty comfortable on Saturday, more so than he does at Old Trafford who’s red brick monstrosity is based on the 1960 council estate concept and whose steps up and down to the technical box are no friend to a man of his age.

Nor Man City, whose dugout has to extend back into the stands to accommodate the legion of back-room staff, all decked out in matching tracksuits and resembling the Olympic Team of a reasonably sized country.

However, to get to the point, given that substitutes now inhabit a comfortable, potentially luxurious environment with their padded chairs and ostentatious surroundings, can we still refer to it as ‘the bench’? At what point do the sponsors flex their wallets and insist on it being called the ‘Best Fiend Enclosure’ or whatever?

Manchester City v Liverpool FC : International Champions Cup
Now this is a bench.
Photo by Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Meanwhile, back in Norwich, Daniel Farke has built a side on a shoestring that looks eminently comfortable playing at the very top.

None more so than Teemu Pukki whose form since the start of the season has been electric, and who’s recent games will no doubt be looked back on by supporters as a series of Pukki blinders.

Also playing out of their skins are the so-called ‘Chelsea Kids’, which the commentator in the Wolves game couldn’t stop banging on about. The kids in question are Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Oh My Goodness (as in ‘and the ball comes out to - Oh My Goodness’), who are all 21, but are they really ‘kids’ in this day and age?

I mean Barcelona have a 15 year old with a 100 million euro transfer buyout clause in his contract – now that’s a kid in professional football. I remember Tammy Abraham when he was on loan at Bristol City three years ago, then again at Swansea and last year at Villa – he’s been around for what seems like a long time, so does he still qualify as ‘a kid’.

And whilst Mount and others like Fikayo Tomori haven’t been in the public eye quite so much, they’ve still served their time. I would see them all as adult professionals rather than kids who’ve been elevated above their status.

Furthermore, I have to say how refreshing it is to hear Tammy Abraham being interviewed – articulate, intelligent, positive, a real breath of fresh air for one so young. The only problem is, and it’s probably his height, build and hairstyle, but every time I see him I can’t stop thinking of Cheesestrings.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Chelsea FC - Premier League
It’ll be straight to bed now that they’ve finished playing.
Photo by Clive Howes - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

So Javier Gracia was the first Premier League manager to get the push so far this season. Whilst he was by all accounts a lovely man, I’m glad to see Flores back. Why? Because he’s got personality (and a nice smile and a wicked line in comfortable knitwear). He’s also a good beard – the Prem needs more good beards, Nuno Espirito Santo has had it all his way for too long on that front.

Gracia’s record with the team was identical to Flores, so how would you choose between them? Well, don’t go for the one who looks like a member of the East German politburo from 1971. Go for personality every time, the one that smiles a lot and looks like he has a pulse.

Which brings me to Unai Emery / Swiss Tony. I’ve been trying to work out for ages what it is about him that I don’t like. Apart from the hair, the squeaky voice and his pained impression on the touchline as his team produce yet another cataclysmic defensive error proving once and for all that playing out from the back is still a long way away from being a complete science?

Ultimately, I think it’s – and I admit that it’s a personal, intangible thing - that he’s just not big enough for the job character-wise. I look at other successful managers – Klopp and Pep obviously, but Sean Dyche, Dean Smith, Chris Wilder, Daniel Farke, even Frank Lampard to name but a few, and they own the team, the ground, the job, the whole thing. They exude control and confidence, they are bigger that the task in front of them.

I look at Emery and I don’t see that – I see a team that’s bigger than the man, who tolerate him as a manager as long as it’s on their terms. He seems to manage whilst shackled either due to backroom restraints, lack of confidence or a lack of character. It’s as if he’s afraid to really let go and make a real impact.

And that, for me, is the difference between Flores and Gracia, too.

Eintracht Frankfurt v Arsenal FC: Group F - UEFA Europa League
And to think it was always full when I took over....
Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Talking of managers, every time a goal is scored on the telly, one of the first shots is of the managers reaction to it going in.

Given that you can never tell when a goal is going to be scored (step forward ‘Oh My Goodness’), must mean that they have a separate camera on each manager for the whole duration of the game.

Surely then there’s scope for a ‘You’ve Been Framed’ special once a year of out-takes showing managers with their guard down during games – picking their nose or scratching their bum etc?

Who knows, they might even pick up a guy urinating in the corner of the dugout at Norwich City.

Liverpool FC v Newcastle United - Premier League
Klopp fails to spot the hidden camera.
Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images