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..”
Stewart Lewis says
Good summary, Gary.
I’ve been very positive on social media about the new man, for two reasons: (i) there’s genuinely something bold and exciting about the appointment, and (ii) it’s always best to be positive and look toward good outcomes.
The truth, of course, is more nuanced. Can we balance the long-term potential of this move (Alex was quoted yesterday as saying ‘You don’t build a team overnight’) with our fans’ expectation of instant success? And if we think it’s a big jump for him to come to the Championship, do we really wish on him all the extra pressures of the Premiership in six months’ time?
That said, he seems not only aware of, but ready for the challenge. Long may his confidence last. While we focus on ourselves as fans, of course the critical thing is whether he can win over the players. As he says, he’s done it so far in is career.
Exciting times ahead. More than ever: On the Ball,City!
All good news but give the guy a break and stop mentioning Lambert. Let him be himself, the pressure will be enough without this shadow.
Ben K says
Fascinating stuff. I must say I’m very surprised. I wonder what Mike Phelan thinks of it all.
Does anyone know if he’ll be able to bring anyone with him? He’ll have been working in a very familiar setup – surroundings, players, staff, fans – so to go into such a big challenge on his own completely would be very daunting. And, someone of Phelan’s experience being his #2 would create quite a strange dynamic (as it would have with Adams).
Hairy Styles says
Stewart(1) – bold..or bald..or both? He looks like he’s made from ‘giirders’.
Big gamble – I hope it’s a stroke of genius and not an act of folly from DM. It’s hugely unrealistic to expect someone so inexperienced to get promotion at Championship level in half a season but I guess that’s what he’ll be judged on. Hamilton would probably rate as a bottom-half Championship to League 1 side in England?
Lambert played at the top level and had already managed two clubs in England – silly to make any comparisons between the two.
Maybe Gary could give AN the address of his barber?
Stewart Lewis says
Hairy Styles (4): it’s a gamble, for sure. But maybe not so fundamentally different from Lambert. I genuinely believe – and can offer a mountain of evidence – that someone’s playing career has very little to do with their aptitude for managing. True that Lambert had managed in League 2 and a little in League 1. Alex Neil’s achievements in the Scottish Prem – including an emphatic win at Celtic – surely aren’t far short. Well, we’ll see.
Steve J says
I often think that football management can’t be all that different from other walks of life. You need a good, ambitious but realistic plan, and you need to get your ‘staff’ believing in it, knowing their role in it, and bringing out the best in them.
As in any other walk of life, the best at doing the business aren’t necessarily the best at managing it.
Hopefully this is a case of DM recognising managerial talent. Don’t look at the playing career, how many top managers were top players? Not many.
If you’re good enough you’re old enough and all that.
The difference between AN and many of his predecessors is that he has inherited a silk purse and not the sow’s ear that hampered Bryan, Roeder, Lambert, Grant and to a lesser extent Hughton. Debt free, parachute money and with the best squad in the Championship, if AN is a good as we all hope he is we should rocket up the league. Biggest challenge will be working out the best team and keeping everyone happy.
I’m really excited by this appointment. This seems like the beginning of a new era. Sure it’s a baptism of fire, but if we don’t get promoted this season it won’t be the end of the world. Some players will leave in the summer, but Neil has built his reputation on bringing the youth through, so who knows what the team may look like in August. Of course I hope he achieves instant success, but this is a shrewd appointment for the long term as well.
He seems like a manager who can make players perform to the best of their abilities, and make the team better than the sum of it’s parts, which is what became painfully obvious that Adams was incapable of.
McNally deserves great credit for this I think. He could easily have bowed to the pressure of the fans who were crying out for experience, got in a ‘safe pair of hands’, but I think he’s put his reputation on the line and dared to be different.
Never mind the danger!
Axel Line says
Re(8) – it is exciting in a ‘stepping off a ledge’ into the unknown way. I’m not sure AN was even aware where Norwich was before this week and maybe that’s a good thing, maybe a bad thing..only Father Time will tell.
I think I’m just as excited by the news that ITV is not renewing Andy Townsend’s contract..happy days.
John Y says
Mark (7), I understand what you are saying to a point but think that there are some serious flaws in the squad that need sorting. Most of the players think that they are Premier League quality without having proved that. I also think that we have an imbalanced squad with too many players in some positions and then other areas (attacking left) where we have very little. I expect AN to make some changes, particularly if he wants to continue with 4141.
Ha! Poor old Andy Townsend. Was he ever any good as a commentator? Not for me Clive.