I ATTACK - THE WAY HOWARD AND JOE TAUGHT ME
Norwich City supporters relishing the style of football being played by their club under Neil Adams this season owe a debt of gratitude to Howard Kendall and Joe Royle.
A classy passing midfielder as a player, most notably for Everton between 1967 and 1974, Kendall took his belief that positive possession football was the way to win trophies into management, and steered his former club to two First Division championships.
Adams, a member of the squad which won the second of those titles in 1987, has never forgotten the lessons he learned at Goodison.
“When I went to Everton (from Stoke City) it was one of the best clubs in Europe, perhaps the best – they also won the FA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup – and every day’s training under Howard Kendall was about possession and scoring goals,” he says. “The first year I was there we won the league, it was all attack, and the fans loved it.
“That had a big bearing on me, as did his man management. He had a group of about 20 players, bearing in mind this was in the days of one sub, and he kept us all involved and rotated, which was pretty much unheard of then. It was an era when Liverpool were winning the title for fun and using 30 or more players, but I think Howard used 22 the year we won it.
“Then I went to Oldham under Joe Royle for five years, a much smaller club, but we played attacking football, we got at teams, we won the Championship (Second Division), got into the Premier League, reached an FA Cup semi-final, played in the League Cup final, and I suppose that success reinforced my beliefs.
“When I used to go and watch as a kid I wanted to see exciting games, with crosses and shots and teams playing with a high intensity. That’s always how I’ve seen the game, as an attacking game, and I’ll always send my teams out to play that way.”
Seeing a club’s supporters leave the ground happy with the result and the manner in which it was achieved is of course the Holy Grail for every manager, and going into yesterday’s match against Birmingham City, Adams was achieving both.
On a glorious late summer’s Friday at the Canaries’ training ground on the outskirts of the city, the 48-year-old acknowledged, as many have pointed out, that given the depth and quality of the squad he inherited, and has since added to, such a philosophy was always more likely to be successful this season than last.
“Obviously it’s different in the Championship, though when I took over for the last five games last season, four of which were against the best teams in the Premier League, we had a real good go and probably deserved better results.
“Yes, we have come down with a core group of players capable of playing at a higher level, but others have been in the same situation and struggled. For me the start, winning five games out of seven including three consecutive away games, has been key. It is in every season, but particularly so when you’ve been relegated. The first two or three games, if you’re not picking up points and scoring goals, it becomes tough, as we’ve seen with Fulham and Cardiff.
“The flip side is you can see how good the atmosphere here is at Colney, because we’re winning games and are in a position we like to be in. A good start helps you to build, and it’s not unexpected because I know the quality of the players we’ve got, and how hard they work in training and in games.
“Every day we insist on really high intensity training.That for me is key. If you see players who are half at it, or even three-quarters at it, well, I always felt as a player that successful teams trained properly, ie at 85-90 per cent.
“You’re never going to be at 100 per cent, otherwise you’d be smashing into each other, but it has to be really high tempo, we’ve insisted on that from the start and we’re getting it every day now, it’s become the norm.
“Then it’s about setting your team up in the way they can hurt the opposition, being ready for what you might face from them in return, and being ready to change as and when needed. As long as no stone has been unturned in preparation, it’s then up to the players, and so far they’ve been fantastic.”
The away wins, at Ipswich, Cardiff, and last Tuesday at Brentford, pleased Adams because they demonstrated the players were capable of adapting their inclination – and licence – to go forward to achieve results against very different opponents.
“We’re looking to win home and away, and in those teams we were facing three different approaches in that Ipswich were pretty much direct, Cardiff tried to play, and Brentford got in our faces. We know there will be times you can’t have it your own way, when you have to dig in for 15, 30, or 45 minutes, and Brentford in particular was a classic example of that.
“Promotion could come down to goals scored, and we have a little target in that respect, but one of the
pleasing things is we’ve conceded just three goals in our first five games. It’s not a case of: ‘Let’s go and win games 5-4’, I’d rather win 3-0, as we did at Brentford. It’s been very pleasing to look reasonably solid at the back. But it’s the attacking third that makes fans go home smiling.” Even so, as defender Michael Turner confirmed after the Canaries turned a two goal deficit on its head to win 4-2 in Wales, during half-time in that game the levelheaded Adams had been angrier than he had seen. Experienced striker Cameron Jerome, a close season arrival from Stoke City, believes that in his approach to the game Adams is the most positive manager he has played for.
Jerome said:“The Premier League is obviously a little bit different, you can’t meet the likes of Chelsea with fire for fire and expect to win many matches, but in this division he’s got confidence and belief in the players’ ability to express themselves and play good football.
“But he still demands you have to work very hard off the ball. High intensity pressing from the front, win the ball back as soon as possible, retain it, and then go and hurt the opposition.”
One of four striking options for Adams, along with Lewis Grabban, Kyle Lafferty and Gary Hooper, Jerome believes City’s midfield guarantees chances.
“I’ve always played in sides with quite a negative midfield, when the priority has been holding the opposition instead of having the freedom to go and hurt them, and it’s refreshing to have players constantly looking to create,” the striker adds.
“When you have the likes of Wes Hoolahan and Nathan Redmond, as well as Alex Tettey and Bradley Johnson, there’s always likely to be a supply of chances for the forwards, as well as goals they score themselves.”
The return to fitness of Elliott Bennett and, imminently, Jonathan Howson, add to the options in the engine room, and with Turner and Carlos Cuellar adding further Premier League experience in the centre of defence, Adams’ squad has formidable depth.
Jerome describes Adams’ approach as “refreshing”, and it has certainly raised the spirits of a Norwich faithful which towards the end of Chris Hughton’s reign, had become thoroughly disenchanted with an approach that yielded neither excitement nor points.
Unprepared to compromise in how he believes the sport should be played, Adams is equally unprepared to prevaricate when it comes to making clear his target for the season.
“To win the league. Because how high do you set the bar? If your aim is top six, and you just miss, you finish seventh, you’re out of the play-offs. If your target is to win, and you just miss, you finish second and you’re promoted.
“To me it would be disrespectful to the players we have not to set the target of winning the league.”
POSITIVE: Norwich manager Neil Adams
TOP BOSSES: Joe Royle at Oldham and Howard Kendall at Everton IMPRESSED: Cameron Jerome, right