When Alex Neil was dismissed in March, few foresaw the major face-lift that would occur in the corridors of Carrow Road. The brazen Scotsman will probably reflect on a robust tenure with hint of resentment at the nightmarish way it ended.
However, it’s sometimes critical for football supporters to do something that doesn’t come naturally: reflect.
Last season was underwhelming, but despite what many pessimistic fans will have you believe, it was not a season with an overriding theme of failure. Norwich were inconsistent, finished eighth and it was inescapably under par, but it was not a complete and utter failure. The club has repeatedly admitted its mistakes, and those responsible have exited stage left.
However, it’s hard not to feel empathy for Alex Neil.
Football is used by many as a source of escapism from the pressure of everyday life, whatever that might be. Only football can get you drunk on joy at the pure hysteria of a winning goal or, more frequently, disappointed and frustrated in unison with your family of fellow supporters.
The bond between City supporters became fragmented and I witnessed in disgust as this resulted in a fracas at too many away games(Burton and Rotherham in particular spring to mind) where supporters had to be restrained from one another by stewards following a clash of opinion.
Sadness was the emotion which greeted me following these scenes. Sadness that the club I loved and the family I belong to was at the point of civil war.
One man embroiled with this was Alex Neil. Some would argue he was the cause. I, for one, wouldn’t disagree.
I ponder about Neil and arrive at the same conclusion. I can’t help but feel that the impetus and desire Neil waltzed into Norfolk with dissolved and he struggled to shake off the monkey of relegation. Self pity and resentment was evident in Neil’s mentality throughout the performances of 2016/17.
His ‘wee-chats’ became broken records and lost their impact. His mentality became stubborn and one dimensional. He was broken by a campaign that he took on his shoulders but then couldn’t carry.
Neil was an enemy of his own success and the over-hype of his ability following the unexpected promotion six months into his arrival.He initially harnessed a wayward playing squad and was the protagonist for change which led him to, rightly, being hyped up as a prodigy of the British management conveyer belt.
The Premier League came too quickly for him. The relegation broke him. A once confident and proactive manager who oozed self belief and played attractive football became a manager filled with self doubt, stubbornness and reactiveness. Norwich lacked personality whilst Neil was trying to regain his.
He looked a more broken and conflicting character as his tenure crawled to an abrupt conclusion. The perplexing universe of management was a lonely place and it culminated on a cold New Year ’s Eve at Griffin Park. His stroll towards the tunnel following the finale of the 0-0 draw was greeted with the one chorus that Canary fans seemed to have in unison; “We want Neil Out”.
Never have I seen a manager so broken by carrying the expectation, which ultimately manifested itself into Neil and led to his unwinding.
In his hearts of hearts, I’m certain Neil didn’t foresee this. Like many, he believed he could right his wrong and return to former glory but the stubbornness became predictable and his honesty was no longer refreshing.
He looked to his army to find the same men who were standing proudly behind him 18 months previous seeking a rebellion. Neil’s flippancy intensified under questioning and his answers became stagnant and lacked substance. The man who stood a broken figure on the sideline following a stalemate with Bristol City was a shadow of the man who lauded in the sun of Wembley.
There is no doubt that the decision to remove him was one that provoked the massive reinvention of a club lying face down in a gutter. This club needed strength, thoroughness and balls to lead it back to where it belongs, Stuart Webber appears to be the light at the end of a two-year long tunnel as the plans were drawn up and swiftly put into action.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Norwich need to amicably divorce themselves from last campaign and remain innovative but sensible. With this new structure, teething problems could and probably will occur, but what needs to be remembered is the dispensability of a head coach should, heaven forbid, Daniel Farke not be the man to lead the Canaries forward.
Revolution, not evolution is the order from many Norwich fans.
As for Neil, hopefully this aperture in his career will revitalise and re-energise his appetite for the game. His youthfulness and knowledge of the game is indisputable and in an era where the breed of British coaches is seemingly evaporating, without intending to regurgitate the nonsense spewed by Ray Wilkins, Neil is needed in the game.
Let’s hope – if he does indeed pop up at Preston – he doesn’t have the last laugh.