Let’s just deal with this first: I want Alex Neil to leave Norwich City Football Club.
It’s nothing personal. I just think he’s a poor manager.
He’s had more than enough time to prove otherwise. By keeping him as long as we have it’s allowed a disappointing campaign to drift into a more alarming situation altogether.
And the overwhelming swell of opinion amongst our fan base – and the local media – seems to agree with my view.
I would sack him today. Well, actually, I’d have sacked him in December, but we are where we are.
Given the horrendous runs of results, pathetic capitulations, a chronic lack of leadership, defensive inability and limited tactical knowhow over the course of both this season and much of the previous, it seems an obvious shout, doesn’t it?
But the board do not see it as we do.
I was one of those who accepted Neil probably deserved a chance to right the wrongs of last season.
To learn lessons from a disastrous but revealing season; to spruce up a capable and experienced squad with younger blood; to ‘do a Burnley’ and stick by the man who got us up last time – in the hope history would repeat itself.
I was wrong.
When the fans hear Neil speak we hear painful repetition, excuses and the blame game. When the board hear Neil speak they hear honesty, reasoning and constructive criticism.
Perhaps we should get Nigel Pearson on the phone to shout, ‘You are an ostrich’ repeatedly at Delia and Michael until it registers.
I honestly believe the board are content with Alex Neil remaining manager and he will be here at the start of next season – everything points towards that scenario.
Our owners see him as the long-term gaffer.
For them it’s the players who are at fault and as most of them will be gone soon Neil should be given time to rebuild. The fans just don’t see the bigger picture. We are just a bunch of moaners who don’t understand.
And yes, I do believe our players should shoulder a huge amount of the blame because they have been awful at times this season.
Sometimes their talent is great enough to dispatch weaker teams without exacerbating themselves. But that attitude won’t wash week in, week out, in the roughest of tough divisions.
Attitude stems from the manager. I’d wager not one of our players would run through a brick wall for him and for this many players – many internationals – to down tools, so regularly, suggests that he is a major problem himself.
Some players have undoubtedly deteriorated in ability, possibly due to age, but most are still very assured players at this level.
They are HIS players. He has spent around £50million since arriving at the club. FIFTY MILLION! He has had many windows to make changes to the squad.
Ok, he has recouped nearly £40million but is that really the point? He has spent (and generally wasted) the most money a Norwich City manager has ever had. His hands certainly haven’t been tied in a hugely detrimental way.
You’re kidding me if you think Alex Pritchard – a real coup of a signing – wouldn’t have played almost every game at promotion-likely Brighton this year. He barely gets a game here. Why?
The gulf in resources between ourselves and the likes of Rotherham, Burton, Barnsley, Preston and Ipswich is staggering. The first four all beat us while ‘them down the road’ secured an unbeaten year against us for the first time in donkeys (appropriate word) years.
Our club – currently CEO-less – is rudderless and completely unambitious on the face of it.
I’d have no issues with the concept of having a long-term manager who faced the odd struggle from time to time if I saw any inkling that he had the ability to get players to play above themselves, was canny in the transfer market and tactically astute.
He ticks none of those boxes.
With swathes of first-team players out of contract, managerial uncertainty, boardroom instability and just one remaining year of parachute payments in the bag, the summer of 2017 will prove to be a watershed moment for the club. The most important transfer window for years – possibly ever.
Get it right and this season can be viewed as a blip. Get it wrong and… well, you don’t need me to spell it out for you.
But do I trust those currently at the helm to make the necessary changes required to navigate these troubled waters? Or will we sink faster than you can say ‘sinking ship’?
Do I heck trust them.
I have little-to-no faith in the owners, management team, recruitment team, nor half of the players on our books.
The club has been run in a seemingly amateurish manner during the last 20 years – only broken by the Bowkett and McNally years. It seems we are back where we started.
But just for today, I’m going to give the board and our Scottish manager the benefit of the doubt and assume they know what they’re doing!
Bear with me.
Let’s say we stick with Neil in charge next season. Sure, sacking the manager would give everyone a lift, but it wouldn’t solve the majority of our problems anyway.
So what can we address in order to transform our fortunes – and his – and get the whole club back on track and pulling in the same direction?
Here, in my opinion, is what we should try:
1] Let nephew Tom take the reins immediately. A controversial view, given his allegiance to the current incumbents, but having spoken to a number of people who have met him recently, I must say I’ve had 100 per cent positive feedback.
He seems a driven young man, ambitious and switched on. All three of those characteristics put him ahead of our current owners and would offer freshness in the boardroom – something we desperately require.
Who knows, he may even be open to looking for investment. The ‘Stowmarket Two’ don’t seem to be.
2] Hire a Director of Football (DoF). Again, not everyone’s cup of tea but given this scenario sees Neil maintain his position, an experienced football head could be useful.
It would also provide stability and allow Steve Stone to be the CEO and concentrate solely on the finances – let the DoF concentrate of football matters alongside the manager.
Money is going to be tighter than it has been in many a year. We need to be clever in the transfer market and invest in getting the correct staff in place off the pitch too.
Arguably more money needs to be spent on the staffing infrastructure behind the scenes than on transfers.
Savings on overpaid players who rarely play will help financially. However, selling a Timm Klose or even a Jonny Howson [wipes away a tear] could fund the whole rebuild and may be a necessity. If so, so be it.
3] Sack the recruitment team. Yes, even Ricky Martin, despite his blatant, err, talent for, err… and for the love of god, please don’t then make HIM Director of Football! Get rid – he’s failed.
4] Poach scouting personnel from lower down the pyramid with experience of success. Ignore the top flight for signings for now – that approach is too expensive and full of jeopardy.
5] Define a philosophy for the recruitment team and manager to progress towards. We currently have no identity and sign players willy nilly. There is no structure to our recruitment.
We sign ‘number 10s’ like they’re going out of fashion and then have one left-back on loan. The squad should be balanced and a DoF would help with this.
6] Set out a project with a timeframe, even if it may take three to four years, to build a younger team built from academy players and lower league prospects, who have the will and desire to better themselves and therefore the club too.
It may not give instant results and requires patience from supporters but at least there’d be a set target, rather than the current drift into obscurity and would give fans something to cling on to as well as hold the club to account for.
7] Get a decent bloody fitness coach. Alex Neil might not think it’s a problem but I can see it with my own eyes, and given all the statistics also suggest we fall apart near the end of games, it’s time to act.
8] Let the following players who are out of contract leave: Ruddy, Bassong, Bennett, Mulumbu, Turner, Lafferty and Whittaker. Some good servants in there – and some less so – but none of them are our future and all are on wages not befitting their ability or worth to the club.
9] And, finally, give some of our younger players a chance this season. The Bristol City game was a perfect opportunity to sprinkle a couple of new faces into the fray and see how they get on.
Instead we get Sebastian Bassong back from the Bermuda Triangle or wherever he’s been hiding while Alex Pritchard and James Maddison sit twiddling their thumbs.
One measly shot on target away to a team who’d won 1 in 17 does not offer much hope of a turnaround. These players simply don’t want to play for this manager.
We are a whopping 21 points off our pre-season goal of automatic promotion. We are 9 points off our minimum requirement of 6th place. We’ve conceded more goals than two of the three teams currently residing in the relegation spots.
Before the culmination of this torrid season we have to play more teams currently placed in the top half of the table than any other club in the Championship, and you don’t need me to remind you how poor our record against those sides has been.
So… I tried to be positive but this isn’t going to get better while Alex Neil is in charge, is it?
Whether you agree with my ideas for the future or not, we urgently need to start making changes, so let’s get the ball rolling and let’s prepare for the future.
As the window is closed, the most productive thing we can do right now is replace the manager.
Let a new man assess the situation so they have the full summer to sort it out.
But it won’t happen.
Urgh. Back to the negativity then!
PS. For those wondering after my previous article – yes – I did renew my season ticket.
And yes… I’m a mug.