Norwich City's promotion to the Premier League for 2019/20 as EFL Championship winners is very much a German success story, as bundesliga.com explains…
Norwich's 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers on 27 April ensured they headed back to the Premier League after three seasons in the EFL Championship, and much of the credit for their excellent campaign has to go to their German head coach Daniel Farke.
Plenty of eyebrows were raised when the little-known 42-year-old was appointed in May 2017, becoming the first foreign coach in the club's history. "Farke? Who the farke is Farke?" fans quipped, yet in the space of under two years, the former boss of the Borussia Dortmund reserves has got the Canaries flying again, bringing many successful elements of his German footballing education to bear on the ruthlessly competitive English second tier.
"I want to dominate the game, to be the protagonist of the game, to decide if you win or lose," explained Farke, who has been likened to former Bundesliga coaches Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, now of Manchester City, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain. "Of course, you need a good balance between offence and defence, but in my opinion it's important to be very good in possession."
A devotee of the 4-2-3-1 formation that helped Germany win the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Farke had a modest playing career, mostly spent as a striker in Germany's lower leagues with Lippstadt. After hanging up his boots he became sporting director and then coach of the club, taking them from the sixth to the fourth tier.
In 2015, he replaced the Huddersfield-bound David Wagner as coach of the Dortmund reserves. Wagner had been lured to England by Stuart Webber, the eagle-eyed sporting director who signed a 15-year-old Raheem Sterling for Liverpool and would later bring Farke to Norwich. Two years after Wagner's arrival, the Terriers were promoted to the Premier League – and lightning has now struck twice with Farke and the Canaries.
"Good things come to those who wait," Welshman Webber enthused, when Farke's arrival was announced before the 2017/18 season. How very right he was.
Norwich's Teutonic influence has naturally spread to the field of play as well. No fewer than 12 players in the first-team squad hold a German passport or have played in the Bundesliga, with Frankfurt-born Switzerland centre-back Timm Klose the only man to have joined the club before Farke. Fittingly, midfielders Marco Stiepermann and Mario Vrancic – who came through the youth ranks at Dortmund and Mainz respectively – were the ones who netted the goals in the promotion-sealing victory over Blackburn.
The duo were key figures for the Canaries in 2018/19 season, with former Energie Cottbus, Greuther Fürth and Bochum player Stiepermann grabbing nine goals and six assists, and ex-Paderborn and Darmstadt man Vrancic going one better, with 10 goals and seven assists. Both were signed by Farke in the summer following his appointment, and both have come on leaps and bounds under his guidance.
And how about top scorer Teemu Pukki, who was recently voted the EFL Championship Player of the Season? The Finland forward scored eight goals in 37 games with Schalke between 2011 and 2013, but has truly come into his own under Farke, notching an eye-watering 29 goals and 10 assists in 43 appearances.
Centre-back Christoph Zimmermann has also played a crucial role, and not just in helping Norwich keep 13 clean sheets with him on the pitch. The 26-year-old Borussia Mönchengladbach youth product, who played under Farke in the Dortmund reserves, has worn the captain's armband in the absence of injured club skipper Alexander Tettey, and has also led by example when it comes to maintaining close ties with the club's passionate fan base. Hardly surprising for someone who cut their teeth in Germany, home to the best-supported league in world football.
"It was the third game of 2017/18," Norwich super fan David 'Spud' Thornhill recalled in 11 Freunde. "A home win against Queens Park Rangers. I still remember how Zimmermann went around the whole stadium applauding the supporters. He gave every single fan a high five! And the other Germans did that too, none of them went straight to the dressing room. That hadn't happened here before."
"Win, lose or draw, everyone goes to see the fans," Webber explained. "Holding hands and throwing them up in the air together, that sort of thing is sometimes ridiculed in England. But when Christoph Zimmermann, Moritz Leitner or Timm Klose go over to the stands, our British players see that. So Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and Ben Godfrey start doing it too. It has become part of our club culture, thanks to the German influence. It makes us special, and that's a good thing."
Part of Dortmund's Bundesliga and DFB Cup-winning squad in 2011/12, Leitner spent time with Augsburg, VfB Stuttgart and Lazio before joining Norwich in summer 2018. Like former Werder Bremen midfielder Tom Trybull, ex-Paderborn striker Dennis Srbeny and on-loan Schalke goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann, he has been swept up in Farke's cosmopolitan Anglo-German project, which has also given a number of talented English youngsters the opportunity to shine.
With British prospects often heading to the Bundesliga to get a taste of elite-level football – Dortmund's Jadon Sancho is the most notable current example – there is delicious symmetry in the idea of a German coach developing future England stars in a quiet corner of Norfolk. Right-back Aarons has been a particular revelation, playing in all but the first five league games and recently picking up the award for EFL Young Player of the Season, at the age of just 19.
Watch: A closer look at Sancho, one of the UK's rising stars flourishing in Germany
Left-back Jamal Lewis, centre-back Godfrey and midfielder Cantwell – a trio of English 21-year-olds – have also featured prominently, with Farke and Webber stating their intention to develop the club's youth culture. EFL Championship rules also dictate that clubs must include at least seven 'homegrown' players on every teamsheet, so the policy is borne as much out of necessity as desire.
"We made it clear from the first day, when Stuart and I arrived, that we want to go this way, that we support youth and we want to develop players," Farke explained. "It's the only option for this club, because we don't have the unbelievable opportunities in terms of money like perhaps other clubs have."
Blending youth with experience, tactical intelligence and discipline with passion and belief, Farke has fostered a never-say-die attitude which has underpinned Norwich's return to the Premier League. They claimed a stunning 4-3 win over Millwall in November, with Pukki – who had earlier missed a penalty – clipping home a 97th-minute winner after Jordan Rhodes's equaliser on 92 minutes. On Boxing Day, Cuban-German winger Onel Hernandez – formerly of the Bremen and Wolfsburg reserves – scored twice in stoppage time against Nottingham Forest to rescue a 3-3 draw from 3-0 down. On both occasions, cue pandemonium in the Barclay Stand.
It took a little time for Farke's methods to bear fruit – Norwich finished 14th out of 24 teams in his first season – but the club exceeded all expectations in 2018/19, reeling in early pacesetters Leeds United to sit top of the table for the first time in early November. A run of eight straight wins between February and April kept them in the driving seat, and they secured the Championship title by beating Aston Villa 2-1 on the final day, rounding out the season on a 14-game unbeaten streak.
"I think Daniel has proven his coaching capabilities," Webber declared, when the North Rhine-Westphalian recently extended his contract until June 2022. "How to develop young players, how to mould a team, how to create a winning team. How to learn very quickly. I think we're really fortunate to have him for a lot longer now hopefully, because one day he'll go and manage in the Champions League, I've got absolutely no doubt about that."
Farke's inner circle is made up of a trio of compatriots who also learned the ropes in Germany, where training-ground discipline is a serious business but young players are given their due. Assistant head coach Edmund Riemer has followed Farke from Lippstadt to Dortmund to Norwich, while head of performance Chris Domogalla also came from BVB and first-team coach Christopher John – who played under Farke at Lippstadt – was brought in from Paderborn. All three men have also prolonged their stay at Carrow Road for another three seasons.
"Everything is becoming much more unified now, we really do feel one with everybody – with the coaches, the players, the supporters," enthused Delia Smith, the well-known celebrity chef who owns the club along with husband Michael Wynn-Jones. "It's all coming together as one, and that's what's going to be a success. The way that they're playing football will always get us through in the end."
Nobody in Norwich is now asking the question, "Who the farke is Farke?" On the contrary, the fans have rebranded the famous Blur song 'Parklife' in honour of their softly-spoken and extremely popular head coach. "All the Germans," they sing. "So many Germans / They all go hand in hand / Hand in hand through their / Farkelife!" Perhaps it has got something to do with Vorsprung durch Technik after all.
"When you work in football, you are always unbelievably greedy to create something extraordinary," Farke admitted after the Blackburn win. "And sometimes you have to dream and think big, and of course we were convinced of our methods. But if you're realistic, you have to say we're perhaps three or four years ahead of schedule! Sometimes when you stick together and you have this unbelievable spirit, and work really hard, then you can achieve extraordinary things."
Funnily enough, one of Norwich's greatest triumphs came at the expense of a German team, when they stunned Bayern Munich 2-1 away in the 1993/94 UEFA Cup, their first and only European campaign. Twenty-five years later, Germany is very much part of the club's DNA as they prepare for a return to the promised land of the Premier League. The Canaries may be some 300 miles away, but their extraordinary success has been very much made in the Bundesliga.