So, now we know, Alex Neil is the chosen one. No, I hadn’t heard of him until mid-morning on Wednesday either (cheers Google).
The 33 year-old Scot from Belshill, whose managerial success to date has come in the form of a promotion for Hamilton Academicals, arrives straight out of left-field, but with managerial stock arguably higher than any others mentioned in conjunction with the City job.
Neil, who was still a player-manager at Hamilton, leaves the Accies in an impressive third place in Scotland’s top division, just three points behind second-placed Celtic and four behind top-of-the-table Aberdeen. All of which points to a healthy CV, albeit one that, from a managerial perspective, is still in its infancy.
His capture is one that carries all the hallmarks of the David McNally of old, as opposed to one borne of a sense of loyalty and sentiment. In the mould of the Paul Lambert if you like, except this time all the correct channels appear to have been followed and we should be spared the shenanigans that led to the off-field battle with Colchester United.
Lambert of course came with lots more managerial experience but both appear to possess similar levels of drive and hunger. Neil, while a relative newcomer to the managerial hot-seat, has enjoyed nothing but success in his short time at Hamilton and will be clearly keen to continue to draw on the qualities that have carried the Accies to the heady heights of Scottish football.
As ever, the appointment of a new manager is inherent with risk but this one also comes tinged with excitement. The usual suspects were being mentioned in ever increasing despatches – Warnock, Sherwood, Robinson, Rosler, Keane (no honestly) and Jones all joining the name Phelan as short-priced candidates – but McNally’s thoughts were well and truly outside the box when when the name Alex Neil came to the surface.
Quite for how long his name has been in the thoughts of City’s CEO will remain a secret but it seems the Canaries asked the Scottish club for permission to speak with their manager on Tuesday evening, which was duly granted.
And Wednesday became McNally’s day to give it the big sell which, with Carrow Road, Colney and a debt-free balance sheet tucked up his sleeve, was clearly an easy one.
The big question of course will be whether one promotion, via the Scottish Championship Play-Offs, and 20 hugely impressive games in the SPL is sufficient preparation for a full-on assault on the English Championship. But that’s one that will only become clear with the passage of time.
For now though the Yellow Army should brace itself for a 22-game season with a no-nonsense Scot, with a liking for passing football, at the helm.
If his references are to be believed City, and McNally, have acquired themselves a gem. The fans of Hamilton, while clearly disappointed at losing their manager with the club at one of its highest ever league positions, have been generous in their praise of Neil.
They describe him as a defensive but creative midfield player whose playing career, which extended into England with spells at Barnsley and Mansfield, was hampered by a series of injuries. He appears to have embedded his liking for attractive passing football into his managerial ethos and has drilled it, with good effect, into a team of young players; all of whom have bought into his playing style.
In conversation with BBC Radio Norfolk’s Rob Butler, former City assistant-manager, Jim Duffy, spoke in equally glowing terms of Neil’s managerial and playing credentials but offered a caveat regarding the size of the task approaching him in the next few days, months and years. He spoke of the size of Norwich City compared to the Accies and how expectation levels are on “completely different levels”.
Again, only time will tell if the Scot can deliver but on this occasion no-one can accuse the City board of taking the easy option. It’s a risk, but an exciting risk, and one that in truth is no less chancy than taking a punt on any of the aforementioned usual suspects.
The best thing that can happen now is that the Yellow Army unites behind Neil and gives him ample opportunity to do south of the border what he has successfully delivered north of it. If he can then the 22 ‘cup finals’ could yet yield a happy ending.
Welcome aboard Alex.
“Never mind the danger..”