Norwich City Sporting Director Stuart Webber: “The situation hiring EU players has become much more complicated for UK-based clubs.”

The newly-appointed Norwich City manager, former Borussia Dortmund II and Schalke 04 manager, David Wagner held his first press conference on Monday. GGFN’s Ben McFadyean was present to find out more about the Frankfurt-born coach and his plans for the Championship club and what role Bundesliga players might have in the plans.

After a nine month wait for his next role, Wagner, who has been appointed on a one-year rolling contract looked like a man looking forward to getting started and being back in the English game, but surprisingly for a club who has had so much success with Bundesliga players, Wagner did not spell out plans to hire Bundesliga players, at least in the interim, and the reasons make interesting reading for readers of the German game, including what role Daniel Farke played in his appointment.

Former Eintracht Frankfurt player Wagner spelt out what is at stake over the rest of the campaign in England’s second tier: “The key message was that we draw a line under the past and call this a restart or a new start,” he said. “We want to implement something they maybe have not played before. Leave everything, even promotion success you might have had in the past, because you will not get it automatically again, you have to work to fight and to earn the right again.”

Wagner, who achieved promotion with Huddersfield Town in 2017/18, spoke about his belief that the ‘Canaries’ can win promotion: “This is what I said to them. I told them it will not be easy. But we have a chance. And I said this before in life, whatever you do, you can only ask for a chance. Then it’s up to you what you do with this, and we have a chance and we must work for it.”

Wagner was asked whether he has discussed the role with Daniel Farke, and commented: “I am aware of Daniel’s achievements of course, I have not discussed the role, either way I would have taken the role as I want to work with Norwich City but I wish Daniel, who I know, every success with Borussia Mönchengladbach of course.”

Farke in his four years with the club gained a reputation for adapting the style of play of Norwich to a more German philosophy with some success, gaining two promotions in 2019 and 2021 in the process. With a style of play similar to Borussia Dortmund, focussed on a highly intense, pressing game with fast counter attacks and lots of ball possession, Wagner, who worked as BVB II coach between 2011-2015 and won the UEFA Cup with Schalke 04 in 1997, was asked about what elements of ‘Ruhrpott Fussball Power’, Ruhr Valley culture of football he was considering implementing. He gave a cautious response: “I think every region has its own culture, and we as coaches here will have to adapt to the culture here.”

Wagner however underlined the attractivity of the football played by clubs like Dortmund and Schalke to English audiences: “We know how much English audiences like that style of football, but our main focus is to give something for audiences to cheer about.”

Asked about the former Werder Bremen player Josh Sargent, who has been playing as a winger under manager Dean Smith, Wagner confirmed that the American will be a ‘central striker’ to fire Norwich City’s Championship promotion bid back into life. Wagner confirmed his view that the Canaries’ nine-goal top scorer must instead operate down the middle.

Asked about the current absence of the US international, Wagner stated that Sargent featured in two of his country’s three group games at the World Cup and has been given some time off for Wagner’s FA Cup match against Blackburn Rovers but will be back in training for the trip to Preston North End on Saturday.

The former Young Boys coach spoke of his belief in Sargent can play an important role in the Premier League push: “He played last season and this season, and did not too bad so far, but he is a young guy and I’m really looking forward to work with him.”

USA international Sargent moved from Werder Bremen along with Milot Rashica, who is currently on loan at Turkish league leaders Galatasaray until the summer.

Wagner however did confirm that another former Bundesliga player will feature in his plans for the club. Former VfL Wolfsburg and Arminia Bielefeld winger 8-time Cuba international Ornel Hernandez, who featured in the club’s FA Cup game on Sunday, got Wagner’s backing: “Ornel can make a difference, he was lively on Sunday, although he was only able to play for 55 minutes, he has a fitness deficit at present, but for the time he was on the pitch he was pretty good.”

Asked by GGFN’s McFadyean about former Werder winger Rashica, Norwich Sporting director Stuart Webber, who worked with Wagner at Huddersfield, confirmed at the same press conference Rashica cannot be recalled this month.

Wagner, who himself played international football for the USA, however confirmed City are keeping tabs on the Kosovan international wide player: “Obviously he is on loan in Galatasaray and from everything I hear and what I’ve seen, they and he are both are very happy with this loan so far,” he said. “And this means we can be happy with this loan as well. Hopefully, they can win the title and qualify for the Champions League.”

Wagner also confirmed the loan is until the end of the season: “Milot is not on my radar for these next 20 very important games, and hopefully some more as well, at the end of this season. This is why we should speak about Milot after the season.”

The Norwich City squad, which was twice promoted to the Premier League, in 2019 and 2021, under another former Borussia Dortmund II coach Farke, who was with City for four years had twelve former Bundesliga players at one point, including Moritz Leitner, Christoph Zimmermann and Timm Klose.

The German coach was also asked about whether there were any plans to bring in any Bundesliga players in the January transfer window: “No, not at this time.”

GGFN, in an article earlier in the season, looked at the underlying limitations on Bundesliga players for transfers to the English game that have arisen because of Brexit.

The point was underlined by Sporting director Webber in clarifying Wagner’s position: “What you have to see is that the team we build here that took us to the Premier League would now no longer be possible, due to the new visa constraints because of Brexit, we couldn’t hire Pukki, Leitner, Zimmermann, Passlack, most of the EU players, only Vrančić could have joined due to his international appearances.”

Webber elaborated on the issues: “As a club we have now had to start a project in South America instead as one door closes, another opens.” The former Huddersfield Town Sporting Director, who also worked with Wagner at the club, however underlined the willingness to support the hiring of any German players Wagner is interested in: “German players are however always interesting, with a German coach here we are always open to Bundesliga players, we know communication works well of course.”

Webber elaborated that players without international caps are now almost impossible to hire: “We cannot get the points in terms of immigration requirements anymore, but if we can get an advantage, we will of course be open, but Bundesliga two and below is almost impossible now unless the player has a lot of international caps at U21 or senior level then the market is pretty much off bounds.” Asked about the prospects for City, former Schalke manager Wagner who left YB Bern after failing to secure the Swiss title in May, spoke of his belief in the squad: “Will promotion happen? I don’t know, but do we have chance? 100 per cent we have a chance, and it’s up to us.”

For now, the Fans are clearly energised by Wagner’s appointment, despite the low temperatures and driving rain, over 20,000 turned up for Sunday’s FA Cup third-round match against 1995 Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers at the weekend, which ended in a 1-0 loss. With the Canaries also out of the Carabao Cup after a home loss on penalties in November, the Frankfurt-born coach can now focus on the remaining 20 fixtures of the season and the promotion battle. Currently 10th in the Championship, City are three points from a promotion place. The first task in the league is a tricky away tie at a Preston North End side which includes former VfB Stuttgart and Germany U20 centre-back Patrick Bauer, on Saturday.

GGFN | Ben McFadyean

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