Let’s look left-field: The hunt for Norwich City’s Head Coach

With Stuart Webber’s appointment as Sporting Director seemingly a case of dotting i’s and crossing t’s, attention can turn towards the appointment of head coach.

Of course, it’s not out of the question that Norwich may – against all odds – still manage to snatch a play-off position. However, if we’re hedging our bets then you’d put your money on another season in the second tier and the final whistle on May 7th seeing attentions turn to preparing for a promotion push in 2017/18, rather than a second Wembley visit in three seasons.

On the face of it, Webber and Stone look good appointments as Sporting Director and Managing Director respectively in this new set-up, so can City make it three from three?

The appointment of Alex Neil caught us all off guard back in January 2015. An initial Google brought up an SNP politician, as opposed to the Hamilton Academical manager, and I’m expecting to be surprised again this time. Under this new set-up, it’s difficult to see the older hands rolling up in the home dugout at Carrow Road so with that in mind, let’s go left-field…

Markus Babbel

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The former Liverpool and Bayern Munich defender was capped over 50 times by Germany, while his managerial career has seen him spend time with Stuttgart and Hoffenheim, as well as leading Hertha Berlin to promotion at the first time of asking. He’s now at FC Luzern in Switzerland where, by all accounts, he’s doing an very impressive job. Talk of interest from FC Basel continues to flutter in the air, while Babbel has Luzern sat in fourth so far this season – despite not having the financial clout of some of their rivals.

Babbel is tactically flexible, having employed several different systems over the course of this season and he’s also not afraid to blood younger players. Jonas Omlin, Nicolas Haas and Filip Ugrinic have all been handed opportunities among others.

He led Luzern to a fifth placed finish during his maiden season, before a third placed finish last year and a Swiss Cup semi-final. The Europa League proved a bridge too far, with Luzern defeated by Sassuolo 4-1 on aggregate however Die Leuchten look well placed to have another crack.

He’s got experience of leading a promotion charge, after winning 2. Bundesliga with Hertha and, at the other end of the spectrum, he’s taken Stuttgart into the Champions League round of 16. Although Hoffenheim could be a blight on his CV, he was faced with the challenge of juggling responsibilities as Head Coach and Sporting Director for a spell. He’s 44, he’s ticking boxes that for fans Alex Neil perhaps didn’t in the shape of putting his faith in youth, that tactical flexibility and his playing pedigree too.

And, aside from that, Babbel recently said there’s nothing worse than a boring team. What’s not to like?

Jens Keller

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Crossing from Switzerland and into Germany, the work that Jens Keller is overseeing at Union Berlin is not to be sniffed at.

The 46-year old was previously in charge of Schalke and Stuttgart for spells before finding a club where he can “build something” and “work in peace” in the shape of Union Berlin. As Babbel did with Hertha, Keller looks set to lead his club out of the second tier and into the Bundesliga – for the first time in their history.

Stuart Webber will lead the hunt for City’s next coach and after plucking the very impressive David Wagner from German football, could he venture back to bring Keller on board?

He’s worked hard at bringing through younger talents, something you feel will be in the remit of any incoming City boss, such as Julian Draxler and Max Meyer while he’s credited with converting Sead Kolasinac to a full-back. Could he be the man to get the most from the Murphys, while bringing through the likes of Ben Godfrey, Glenn Middleton and Todd Cantwell?

Keller has bounced back from a difficult end at Schalke, perhaps he’s one that could help City do similar next season.

Quique Setién

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I’ve seen Quique Setién’s name banded about a few City fans and certainly he’s another who could fit the bill. He’s set to depart Las Palmas at the end of the season, so could he be one to swap the Canary Islands for the Canaries?

Now, I’m not going to profess to know an enormous amount about Quique, so instead I will deter to an excellent profile put together by David Garcia for Eat Sleep Drink Football.

The 58-year old led Las Palmas to safety during his first season at the club. Having arrived with the club in the relegation zone he led them to 11th, while they currently sit in 12th this time out and 14 points clear of the relegation zone.

In his own words, Setién sees football as follows:

My concept as a manager, as with the concept of chess, is to attack with order and control the rearguard. You can be an offensive player, but always control what happens in the back, never leave any loose pieces, have synchronisation. Football is the same: to have a coordinated team, all players must be connected.

Setién has a clear idea of how he wants to play and for a side such as City that have been accused of lacking an identity, he could be just what the doctor ordered.

Torsten Lieberknecht

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During a lengthy spell at one of my favourite named clubs, Eintracht Braunschweig, Torsten Lieberknecht has forged himself a reputation as a local hero – having led the club from 3. Bundesliga to automatic promotion to the Bundesliga in five years.

They’re plying their trade in 2. Bundesliga at present, though Lieberknecht has been lauded as a key figure in the club’s resurgence. He’s working with a Sporting Director already at Braunschweig, Marc Arnold, with the pair signing players from lower divisions on free transfers as the club reduced its debt and improved its on-pitch performance at the same time.

Similar at City, would be most welcome…

Heiko Vogel

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David Wagner came from Dortmund II, so could City look to the reserve side of another of Germany’s biggest clubs, Bayern Munich?

I know a fair bit about Heiko Vogel, as he was manager of FC Basel for a bit and although he wouldn’t be my first choice, he’s got a bit about him.

He was sacked by Basel with the club in fourth and replaced by club legend Murat Yakin, sparking a return to Bayern Munich – where he’d worked with the youth sides previously. He’s set to leave Bayern Munich II at the end of the season owed to a revamp of the club’s youth set-up.

Better utilising their academy has to be the way forwards for Norwich, and it’s evident Vogel has notable experience in working with younger players.

Anthony Hudson

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The Sun recently linked the New Zealand manager with the Carrow Road hotseat, however with the Sporting Director appointment taking up the City board’s focus we can safely assume that was most probably bullshit.

Nonetheless, it would be remiss not to mention the most left field of all those actually linked to the Canaries thus far – even if a recent Football Manager experiment of mine (I know, I need a social life) didn’t see things end well for Hudson in Norfolk.

The 36-year old has came up trumps for Bahrain, while he’s doing a solid job with New Zealand – bouncing back after leaving Newport County after just 19 games.

Hudson is one of the youngest to complete the UEFA Pro Licence, while he’s coached under Harry Redknapp and seen the methods of messrs Mourinho, Bielsa and Conte first-hand. Perhaps the standout thing about him though, is the way in which he’s seen an overhaul of the various age groups in New Zealand.

We’ve had two years of rebuilding the teams, bringing in young players and also developing our under 17s, under 20s and under 23s, making sure we have the same style of play. This has paid dividends as we now have over 50 per cent of the first team that are under 23 and know the style of play inside out.

As City look to build towards the future, such an approach could be invaluable.

Russell Martin

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How do you get more left field than Anthony Hudson? Here’s how. I know having interviewed Russell Martin for Shoot that it’s an avenue he’s looking to explore.

Yes. One hundred per cent. I’ve started doing my coaching badges now. I’ve got to concentrate on playing for a good few years yet but I’ll have an idea of a way I want to play football or have an idea of a way that I feel football should be played. I’m really interested in people and psychology so I probably want to be a manager more than I do a coach. I’m going to be starting doing a bit of the academy work here with a few of the coaches. I’m looking forward to that step, I think I can do it and I think it’s something that’ll come quite naturally to me and hopefully someone, somewhere will give me a chance. I’d love to come back here and manage this football club.

This was 2014, so obviously things may have changed a little however make no mistake, Russell Martin is a manager in waiting. It’s a matter of when, not if.

(Though I suspect, City won’t be going quite ‘that’ left field.)

The wait begins

Like the bookies and the media, I don’t have a clue who will end up in the City dugout. In a strange sense, it’s an exciting prospect.

The imminent appointment of Webber feels a genuinely smart move. I’ve been critical of the board, however credit where credit’s due, I think they’ve made two solid appointments – now it’s time to nail the third.

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