The SoccerBot360 is under construction on the Norwich training ground. For £ 750,000 it is a circular room with video walls.
Players stand in the circle with a ball at their feet and are tasked with hitting targets that appear on the screens around them. Like a football version of Whack-A-Mole.
Norwich are the first club in the country to install one and manager Daniel Farke describes it as an ‘expression of ourselves’. In an hour-long chat, Farke explains to Sportsmail’s Chris Sutton why, as a self-funded club that can’t just spend £ 20m on one player, they need to do things differently from others. Kieran Gill listened in.
Norwich boss Daniel Farke believes his party can avoid relegation if they play ‘risky’ football
DANIEL FARKE: We have to be more creative, faster and more risky. This should be our strategy. If it was only about money and individual quality, we had no chance. We have to go our own way.
We’re not going to say we’re staying in the Premier League because of our SoccerBot – it’s not like we’re running with the team and having training. But you can work in it individually.
I worked at Borussia Dortmund and they had something like the Footbonaut. Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski often worked there to improve their first touch, awareness and cleanliness. It’s details.
Farke says Norwich needs to be ‘more creative and faster’ if they want to disrupt the odds
CHRIS SUTTON: To get that extra one or two percent out of your players?
FARKE: This is an expression of our way of trying to get ahead of the wave instead of swimming with it. When we have this SoccerBot, we want to do the following. That’s what we have to do because we don’t have the financial background like other clubs. It’s about fine margins, which are one or two percent.
A good touch can change the whole game. These are the details we like to work with. We are not too addicted to it, but it is an expression of ourselves.
BUTTON: Thank you for taking the time to talk, Daniel, and congratulations for coming right back. I have to ask, Norwich finished the 2019/20 season by losing 10 consecutive Premier League games, so what did you say to the players on the first day of the following preseason?
FARKE: I’m a big believer in being honest and not playing mind games. We talked intensively about reality. When I was in England, no club with direct promotion could return to the Premier League. Only one team came back and that was Fulham in the closing seconds of the play-off final.
Two years ago I felt we were not prepared for the Premier League. I said we needed a miracle to stay up. We went upstairs with some young boys. They buzzed. But it’s like driving my car in Formula 1 – I might have the enthusiasm, but I would never win the race.
Norwich were relegated after the end of last season, losing 10 consecutive Premier League games
Farke says they spoke “intensely about the reality” of degradation during prep training
BUTTON: So it would have been a miracle to stay in the Premier League two years ago. Does it take a miracle to stay up next season?
FARKE: No, we don’t need a miracle. It will be incredibly hard work, but it is possible. We are still the only self-financing club at this level. We will still be the big underdog. But we are much better prepared.
In the past 30 years, which teams are most likely to survive after promotion? They are the ones who get promoted because of a solid defense. Your higher-level striking attack is no longer as striking. We still go for our opponent. It will never be my side of Norwich to park the bus and pray for a deflected strike.
We will try to push high, hold the ball and attack, but not in a naive way.
Norwich has a family feel. Scouring a sea of shirts, kit man Pete Dye discusses how he lived up to a promotion promise by playing his tuba in the players’ locker room.
He played Sweet Caroline until midfielder Kenny McLean poured a bottle of Peroni down the pipes.
The German doesn’t feel like they need a miracle to stay up and praised the club’s ‘family vibe’
The reception staff, Vicky and Quentin, cannot do enough for you and sporting director Stuart Webber stops for a chat on the way to a meeting. Farke brings a special energy, and it’s easy to see why the Norwich side love to play for him.
BUTTON: Pep Guardiola says he’s a big fan of your football. Do you have any coaching idols?
FARKE: Ottmar Hitzfeld. He has won many German titles, but also the Champions League with Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
He was a perfect head coach for Bayern because he was always a gentleman, with class and style. Maybe he wasn’t a tech genius like Pep, but he had an incredible sense of man management. Even now when there are tough decisions I sometimes wonder, “How would Ottmar Hitzfeld react?”
BUTTON: You had to make a tough decision at the start of this season. Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia dropped because their heads were apparently turned.
FARKE: When I get the feeling that a player can’t give everything to this yellow shirt, I’ll go without him – no matter how much he costs, how much he earns, how big his name is. I have my requirements.
Ottmar Hitzfeld is Farke’s coaching idol and looks to the management legend for inspiration
BUTTON: You have them aside again. Cantwell and Buendia have been excellent to you.
FARKE: I could understand them. I said I was not angry. They received a lot of praise in the Premier League. Their names were associated with the biggest clubs. Ever since they came to us, their way has always been up. Every day they got more and more praise.
The relegation was the first time they suffered a setback. Max Aarons, I can’t praise him enough for being incredibly focused, but not everyone is the same. You played against Manchester City and got praise from Pep. Then you travel to Wycombe, or Rotherham, or Luton.
I like Cantwell and Buendia, but if you lower the levels you will lose the locker room. I offered them a way back.
BUTTON: What if nice offers come in for Buendia and Aarons, for example, this summer? Wouldn’t they be impossible to replace?
FARKE: Difficult to replace, but no player is bigger than the club. I am realistic. I know I work for a self-funded club. It is part of our model that we develop players and as soon as there is an insane supply, this club will sell. We will always have to be creative in the market.
He says it would be difficult to replace Max Aarons (R) or Buendia (L) but insists they are no bigger than Norwich
Farke will not accept the bare minimum and would not accept 17th place if offered to him
There is no guarantee that if you bring in Buendia, a 21-year-old from the Spanish second division, he will go this way, but thank goodness he did. It is, of course, easier to spend £ 20 million on a quality player. But this club cannot do it and sometimes we will have to sell our best players. I remember the sale of James Maddison (to Leicester for £ 22 million in 2018). Without that fee, I’m not sure the club would still exist. We were under incredible pressure.
BUTTON: Don’t you get frustrated with that model?
FARKE: I knew what I was applying for. I don’t just rate my job by winning titles or making money. It can be more valuable to give something to a club’s community, rather than being the 27th coach to win a title there. I am now completely in the right place and completely happy.
BUTTON: If I offered you 17th place now, Daniel, would you take it?
FARKE: It will be an incredible success when we finish 17th and the parade that we were not allowed to do this year, believe me, next year. But I want to win as many games as possible. I wouldn’t be happy with the minimum.