I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Alex Neil; he is cutting an ever more frustrated figure. His latest press conference was just a bit odd.
Some of his comments during the AGM and yesterday’s presser feel a like a teenager trying to shift the blame for something they are responsible for; in this case, to the players, fans, media – anyone but himself and the board.
I’m sure he didn’t intend it to sound that way; but it did. He knew when entering the world of football management that the buck stops with the manager; it’s not always fair, it’s not always balanced, but that’s just how it is.
He is, of course, right about the players in some respects, but I’m not convinced the best way to get them motivated is to publicise that divide. The best managers nearly always protect their players; they accept it as part of their job.
I’m certain that the chats that occur behind closed doors are often very different to the spiel presented to the public, but it’s there for a reason. I’m torn as to whether I like our manager venting his spleen like this or whether I find it really unprofessional, although my initial reaction to ‘players sitting around watching TV’ was one of pure shock.
Whether the comment serves to make the current situation worse or fire them up will only become clear this afternoon.
But it is also most certainly the players’ job to implement the manager’s plans and I’m certain Alex doesn’t instruct them to amble about passing slowly in front of an opposition’s defence and to make schoolboy errors game after game without learning from them or rectifying them.
I’m sure he does his homework on the opposition – to know how they’ll line up, who has a big throw, who takes the dead balls, what routines they tend to use, who likes to shoot from distance, who should each player be picking up and when etc – but if he is, that is not being shown on the pitch. It needs sorting out and fast.
But, in the spirit of balance, I can’t help feeling that given that the board are backing him to the hilt that the best outcome for everybody concerned would be for Alex to turn it around.
So what does he need to do in order to do that?
Well, in short, win football matches, which is of course easier said than done.
What I’d like to see is Alex return to how he was when he joined us. He was confident, sure of himself. We played attacking football. It was fast – one or two touch passing – with quick movement, when we lost the ball. We hunted in packs high up the pitch with energy and put pressure on teams to win the ball back. All a stark contrast to this season, even when we were top we were scraping though most games.
A win is a win, you only get three points no matter how it happens, but I think the reason fans and media have been so quick to turn on Alex and the board, is that we’ve been incredibly disjointed for most of the season – and winning ugly only takes you so far.
Initially, I felt this was a huge plus sign. “Imagine what we’ll be like when everything clicks, somebody is in for a hiding.” But it never happened, and the longer it didn’t happen the more concerned fans became, the tension inside Carrow Road was palpable, and when the wheels came off there was a sense of inevitability about it.
Alex talks a lot about needing to win the right to play but if you look at our players, a squad very much his own now, I’m not sure they’re the fighting type. Leeds centre-backs made Cameron Jerome look like Wes Hoolahan in terms of height; most of our midfielders are attack-minded and slight of frame.
This means if we try to make games a fight and only a fight, we’ll lose it. We need to impose our game on opponents, if we move quicker, pass quicker and be more decisive, I think we’re good enough to open teams up for fun at this level.
Alex also talked about fans expecting us to just turn up but I’m not sure that is the case. For that mindset he needs to look a little closer to home – in the changing room.
More often than not this season it’s been the second half that has cost us; we look tired, both mentally and physically and that’s a real concern. Maybe we should look to change the fitness regime. And I’d suggest not having a definitive defensive coach is a mistake in a team that’s been shipping goals. It’s not just about players.
There’s been a lot of focus on formation, but I actually like the 4-2-3-1, I don’t think it’s the problem; the problem is the lethargy from the players, the slow sideways passing, the lack of organisation and the lack of desire to win the ball back. It’s this we need to see change.
I do, however, think the lack of a plan B, or C, or even D is a problem, but that again perhaps comes back to the squad we have.
One concern that came to mind during the cynically timed Jacob Murphy contract announcement, was the comment that Josh needs to work harder – whenever I’ve seen him play he seems him runs himself into the ground. I also hate to think that we’ll make that classic British mistake of coaching flare out of players and work rate in. I await the day we’ll play both Murphy boys together so they can link up; it’d be a great sight to see.
Alex may want to consider changing things up a bit but he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If he keeps the same team he’s accused of not changing it up, if he changes it he’s accused of making the wrong changes. Unless the team wins, he can’t.
He’s hinting that experience will get us out of the rut; I’d rather go the other way, get more of the younger players with a point to prove in as the older guys are proving they’re not up for it way too often. I think it’s time for a few of them to move on.
So, in summary, it feels to me like the best for all concerned if Alex turns this around, which in truth it always was. So Alex, watch a few of your early games, get back to that style and the results will come.
If you can turn this round, then maybe, just maybe we have got the bright young manager we’re told we have.