Cast your minds back to this point one year ago.
Norwich City sat fourteen in the Championship table, suffocated by mid-table mediocrity and external noise surrounding the underperformance and tedium they’d consumed underpinned a team that, with the beauty of hindsight, was transitioning.
Whenever reading any Norwich piece this season, that context is prevalent within the majority of them. Merely because it provides a remarkable backdrop for what has transpired in this campaign.
The narrative of this team’s meteoric rise is one that wouldn’t be believable if it had been scripted in Hollywood.
Protagonists who were on the brink of rapidly losing the belief of supporters, led by an inexperienced operator who was attempting to construct a complex brand of football whilst shopping in a market unfavoured by most, has soared to the top of the Championship.
Those present at Portman Road in October were audibly distressed. Calls for his head were never heard publicly, but even his most devoted and patient supporters within the Canary nation were beginning to suffer from doubt and posing questions of the man packaged as the one capable of leading the Canaries into a bold, colourful new era.
Daniel Farke stared adversity in the face and refused to avert away from his desired methods, regardless of calls from supporters and pundits for change.
Declaration that his lethargic philosophy wouldn’t stand up to the rigours of the division was a popular discourse and yet, behind closed doors, the German kept coaching, improving and believing. Refusing to be subjected to a culture that demands short term success at any cost. Instead, he put his head above the parapet, suffered adversity and soldiered on.
He did this not in a brazen ‘I told you so’ manner, but with composure and humility that speaks volume of the man.
Last season required Farke to be reactive.
Witnessing a mass exodus of key performers that he would have undoubtedly of constructed a role within his philosophy for, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be able to spend freely. Farke wasn’t overseeing a revolving door policy but one where only the exit door was letting in a draught so great that it impacted on the development of his methodology.
Farke’s colleagues in the Championship nor any of his predecessors would have possessed the stomach to turn to the academy or unfancied foreign shores in order to execute a philosophical approach once labelled as unrealistic.
Square pegs in round holes spring to mind.
Be it Marco Stipermann at left back, Nelson Oliveira as a lone striker or Harrison Reed as a right back, players were operating in positions they found uncomfortable. The weight of expectation, created by those before them, was still existent in NR1.
Expectation is an infectious thing among fanbases.
It only requires a few names that possess a reputation to ignite the touch paper and cause unwarranted excitement. Supporters are, by design, permitted to dream, to expect and to want to be entertained but underpinning that needs to be an atmosphere which chants with gusto, displays unrivalled passion and unconditional support.
That’s been witnessed this campaign with thanks to some fantastic fan initiatives and open minds.
This isn’t a side that has been constructed on a hefty budget commanding colossal transfer fees nor have they thrived because of the existence of a wealthy benefactor. The omission of both of those factors is what makes the Norwich City narrative so moreish and so likeable.
Talk of the weight of the shirt being too substantial for some is now non-existent, that is down to the work of Farke and his coaching staff daily on the fields of Colney.
Philosophy and culture are the buzzwords used to describe the happenings off the pitch at Colney and within the academy, but they exist too within Farke’s ethos and key workings.
Above all else, Farke has shown tremendous bravery and stuck his head on the line throughout his premiership.
Courage is opting to give a then 19-year-old left back his first senior start in a crunch Boxing Day encounter that proceeded a dismal, toxic loss at home previously.
What’s braver though, is allowing that young operator to play with his heart. With freedom and expression but also creating an environment that doesn’t crucify mistakes but embraces them. Combine that with a competitive, ambitious and resourceful working environment and you break the limits of what’s achievable.
Fundamentally, that’s why Norwich are reaping the benefits of young performers applying themselves, seemingly, without breaking a sweat.
For all of the credit Farke will get thrown in his direction should they achieve promotion, to possess the confidence to select young players but also create an environment willing to allow them to make mistakes is the reason Norwich are overcoming expectations.
Underpin that with genuine togetherness and you find a group that’s resilient and cohesive who support each other during the rough periods but also carry those struggling through to the other side.
That isn’t something innate, but it’s designed.
Football is a fickle business, everyone who elected to watch the Sunderland documentary on Netflix can witness how teams who opt for a vertical power structure are reliant on ego-driven philosophies rather than one which creates community and togetherness, a formula truly capable of driving a team forward.
Managers placed on pedestals, chief executives commanding too much authority and players throwing their big contracts back in the faces of the club who trusted in them to perform initially.
Prior to the major changes, Norwich stood at a crossroads.
Looking in the mirror, they opted to reform. Evolving with contemporary football and taking stock of what was happening elsewhere within a football sphere wider than England. Those vilified for lacking ambition answered those doubts emphatically, they gave the keys to other people and allowed them a carte blanche to affect proceedings accordingly.
Young players want to play for Norwich. Conscious of the pathway but also the environment. One of education rather than expectation, of application over talent and of opportunity rather than separation.
Compared to two seasons ago, the football on display is aesthetically pleasing to witness. Operators are blossoming and rather than playing out their careers, are forming them.
This is Norwich City 2.0, one which is obsessed with its image and setting high standards but not self-indulgent enough to reject other success practices elsewhere and incorporate it into what it does. At the heart of it, a place where ideas are encouraged, and constructive criticism embraced.
‘How can we improve?’ is the key question rather than setting limitations to what could be achieved.
Norwich City Football Club are self-aware, expanding and oozing ambition – not many would have expected that this time last season.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was Daniel Farke’s footballing symphony but it’s now producing a tune everyone can sing along too.