Do you believe in coincidences or curses?
Curse-wise, Alex Neil escaped the fate of his two immediate predecessors in the City hot-seat by not having to say the ‘F’ word (Fulham) under his breath after defeat in his first match in charge. We have to wait until the last game of the season for that one to hopefully be put to bed.
As for coincidences, all of City’s more recent Scottish managers – Neil, Paul Lambert, Bryan Gunn and Peter Grant (like Neil, born in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire) – all faced teams beginning with ‘B’ after signing the contract (Bournemouth, Brentford, Barnsley and Birmingham respectively). “Whit ur th’ chances ay ‘at?” as they might say over the border (at least according to my English to Scottish translation source).
So, in sweeps a new and youthful broom at Carrow Road via Scotland for 2015. There is no comparison to be made with Lambert (or other previous Scottish incumbents), other than the ‘B’ thing and their genetic origin, so let’s leave it at that.
Neil Adams will be back in the summer, which shows his genuine allegiance to the yellow and green cause. I wish him a refreshing spot of gardening leave – hopefully a case of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ for him. Having to depart with the team in 7th place must arguably make him the unluckiest manager in our history.
And so to the new man: Alex Neil. A name unfamiliar to all but those with an interest in the Scottish Premier League. Clearly he had been on the radar of David McNally for a while who has put his faith and, quite possibly, his reputation solidly behind the Accies legend.
McNally has spoken in glowing terms (from a slightly uncomfortable looking leather couch) of the qualities which convinced him that Neil has ‘the right stuff’ for a bright future with the Canaries.
The CEO has done many good things for Norwich City and clearly feels very secure in his position as it is without doubt a massive gamble to put our promotion hopes in the hands of someone so tender in years.
Was Neil on the radar of any other of the Championship sides who have made managerial changes this season?
Mike Phelan had been presumed to slip effortlessly into the role as many had predicted would happen when he was appointed as Adams’ right-hand man. What now for him? He’s already played second fiddle to a Scottish Alex. Why would he settle for being number two again at a smaller club in a lower division?
Whether the Sassenach Phelan hangs around for too long once Neil gets one or two of his Hamiltonian foot soldiers to storm across the border and engage with us successors to the Iceni remains to be seen.
The phrase ‘hit the ground running’ tends to pop up a bit too often in the world of football but I can’t think of a better one to sum up the task facing our new Neil. He has to get to know his troops, instil his philosophy and knock any heads together in terms of discipline, and all done on a timescale of yesterday.
He has the ‘chiselled from granite’ look of someone who will be more than happy to wade in and sort any kind of lingering background unrest out. I’m also sure he has a hairdryer (with a setting at eleven) in his armoury. By all accounts he’s a tough cookie but if you get on board and toe the line, then he is loyal to those around and will defend them in adversity.
It all sounds just the ticket on paper and he’s played a blinder with the media so far, but that can go wrong very quickly if we slide further from the play-offs and end up in the lower recesses of the table come May. How patient will an ever fractious and fractured Carrow Road faithful be if a glorious instant revival doesn’t materialise?
The odds on Neil leading us to promotion after just 4 and a bit months in the job have to be very slim. If promotion is a step too far this season he will then be required to show that by August his team are serious challengers in 2015-16.
I’m not sure McNally can afford for that not to happen. Clearly what the club doesn’t need is a long list of short-term appointments chipping away at fans’ confidence and willingness to fork out for a season ticket.
Neil’s first taste of the Carrow Road atmosphere will be in front of a near-capacity crowd baying for points off Cardiff – a club whose own Premier League full houses of just a few months ago have already dwindled dramatically. Therein lies a stark warning of the pitfalls of not finding the right man for the job.
I like to wait for the five game test before getting too euphoric around a new appointment. Of those previous Scots, Grant has the best record with three wins one draw and one defeat – no one back to Ron Saunders has ever won five out of their first five – so maybe it’s not a foolproof method, but after just 30 odd minutes on the sideline Neil’s Canary career is very much at its infancy stage.
However, Bournemouth was a ‘wee belter’ of a start to a new Celtic-infused City era.