Why Daniel Farke Paid the Price for Abandoning ‘Farkeball’ at Norwich City

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After a four-and-a-half-year spell at Carrow Road, Daniel Farke has officially been sacked as Norwich boss. Farke, who was plucked from the relative obscurity of Dortmund’s B team by sporting director Stuart Webber, has given Norwich fans two of the best seasons in their history, and two Championship league titles. Nevertheless, Farke’s diminishing faith in his own tactics, companied by a winless start to the 2021-22 season, forced the board above him to bring an end to his reign in Norfolk.

Patience a virtue for Daniel’s ‘Farkeball’

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The heartbeat of the Canaries’ success under Farke was the implementation of a high-octane, high-pressing 4-2-3-1 system which fans lovingly labelled ‘Farkeball’. It was heavily influenced by two attack-minded full backs, providing the width to enable the three forward-thinking midfielders to roam inside and do their damage between the lines. It took time for ‘Farkeball’ to develop. In Farke’s first season, Norwich finished a lowly 14th in the Championship – behind their bitter rivals Ipswich. Nevertheless, the data suggested the style of play was steadily emerging. The following year, Farke’s troops had the fourth-highest average possession statistics and the third-highest pass completion percentage. They immediately won promotion to the Premier League, and Farkeball in its purest form was born.

The ‘2’ midfielders in the Farkeball system were also heavily relied upon for their positional maturity. With the fullbacks given freedom to attack, the holding midfielders were required to provide a block for the central defence, forcing teams to play wide rather than through them. In Oliver Skipp, Norwich had a capable midfielder in helping cover and sweep up any messes in behind last season, that they no longer have this season. At the other end of the pitch, Farke’s playmakers like Mario Vrancic and Emi Buendia have, over time, expertly assumed the mantle of threading assists between the lines for Teemu Pukki to flourish and notch 69 goals in 131 City appearances. With a high defensive line, the ‘Farkeball’ system enabled Norwich to suffocate many teams at Championship level, earning them two deserved automatic promotions under the German.

The Canaries are the only self-funded club in the Premier League. Although self-funded isn’t quite true given their reliance on television money from the Premier League, as with all other top-flight clubs. What the powers that be at Carrow Road really mean is that they do not have a wealthy benefactor pumping money into the club. Majority shareholders Delia Smith and husband Michael Wynn-Jones have a personal wealth of £23 million, which is a drop in the ocean compared with the likes of Newcastle’s new consortium, valued at £320 billion. It’s no surprise that Norwich are often heralded for their sustainable approach, with the sale of last season’s talisman Emi Buendia to Aston Villa funding many of Daniel Farke’s transfers in the summer. But much of that money would have also needed to go back into COVID-19 repairs, and the club would not have been able to fund transfers to the same extent as previous years. ESPN reporter Mark Ogden recently described even the “best-run clubs” in the top-flight as being “driven to extinction”. Even the Premier League admitted their league is “unsustainable” without the fans flowing through the turnstiles.

So without some of the keys to their success in the Championship, Norwich needed to abandon some of their principles of play and opt for a more defensive style of play. They’ve averaged just 43% possession this season, compared to 50% when they were relegated back in 2019-20. It’s normal that with a drop in quality that a drop in possession would occur, but this seemed far more intentional.

Did Farke lose courage?

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Prior to the 2021/22 Premier League campaign, Norwich sporting director Stuart Webber decided to do things rather differently. The club finished the summer transfer window as the eleventh-highest spenders in European football, attracting promising talents such as Milot Rashica and Christos Tzolis, along with Billy Gilmour and Ozan Kabak on-loan from Chelsea and Schalke 04 respectively. They also added Mathias Normann on loan from FC Rostov, hoping he’d have the legs to anchor the midfield and screen the back-line. Rashica was meant to be a Buendia replacement, despite struggling to establish himself at relegated Werder Bremen last season. Billy Gilmour meanwhile was supposed to fill the boots of Oliver Skipp, but has been completely out of his depths in fulfilling that promise.

The early-season data suggests that ‘Farkeball’ has been well and truly abandoned, certainly after the Canaries’ dismal defeat at the hands of fellow promoted side Watford. Farke had also abandoned his trusty 4-2-3-1 formation in favour of a more defensively minded 3-5-2 system against Leeds, which Marcelo Bielsa’s side still managed to exploit. Their recent 2-1 home loss to Leeds saw them register a pass completion rate of just 68% – their lowest of the season and certainly not what we’ve become accustomed to from Farke’s men. With Farke losing confidence in his own abilities and the players seemingly lacking belief too, it’s little wonder that the team was going increasingly direct. But this mentality shift only resulted in a loss of identity and a loss of quality, as Norwich lost game after game. The timing of Farke’s sacking, coming after the side’s first win of the season, was strange. But the decision from the board seemed inevitable. If Norwich and Stuart Webber are deadly serious about losing their yo-yo tag, the data proves the time is right for a change.

So there it is! A quick analysis of Norwich’s sacking of Daniel Farke. Be sure to check out more of our analyses, and follow on social media via the links below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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