– English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”
– Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic alone.
– Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.
– Robert Hensel set a world record for the longest non-stop wheelie in a wheelchair.
– Alex Neil became the youngest ever football coach to gain promotion to the Premier League with Norwich City.
The first four of these are historically accurate – the fifth is what all Canaries fans are dreaming of. What is the likelihood of it happening come May 2015?
In my scribbling of last week, I reckoned that, “The odds on Neil leading us to promotion after just 4 and a bit months in the job have to be very slim.” That statement was based on gut instinct – in my case, a notoriously fickle indicator of future events.
Hey, I’m as excited as any fan by the frisson of expectation that Neil has brought to the club in just one week but some of the online reactions have, to be fair, been bordering slightly on mass hysteria.
Even some of the more grizzled veterans have got carried away and already claimed an almost ‘messianic’ arrival. Neil does share a birthplace with Sir Matt Busby but it’s a little early to be claiming miraculous footballing powers just yet.
The Pink Un’s digital edition headline following the Bournemouth game exclaimed, “Alexander the great” (note – no question mark). That’s the kind of unfortunate hyperbole that could come back to haunt in the same way that ‘Be afraid of the big bad Wolf’ did for the last signing to generate such a furore around Carrow Road.
It’s one of life’s imponderables – youth versus experience. A new zestful approach versus tried and tested world wisdom – what’s best? What has the board gambled with their choice of Alex Neil over someone who’s been forged more fiercely in the footballing fires?
Maybe it’s a bit like handing the keys of a new Porsche bought with a lifetime’s savings to your newly qualified 18 year-old and hoping it doesn’t end up dented, scratched or in a ditch?
The perception in 2015 is that football management is becoming increasingly youthful in outlook – Eddie Howe, Garry Monk, Brendan Rodgers just three examples. Counter to that is 65 year-old Arsene Wenger or Harry Redknapp, who at 66 became the oldest boss ever to gain promotion to the top tier. Are the under-40s really taking over?
In the Championship, the current average manager age is 47, with 3 (including Neil) being below 40. Contrast with 1994/95 where the old Division Two had an average manager age of 43. A whopping 10 from 24 were under 40 (Brian Laws at Grimsby and Steve McMahon at Swindon being Alex Neil’s age), not forgetting a fresh-faced 35 year old Mick McCarthy at Millwall.
If we wind the clock back 30 years that ratio was up to 50 per cent; 11 out of 22 managers were under 40 in the second tier (an average of 41) with the prodigious Steve Coppell at Crystal Palace just 29.
But Neil is a relative veteran compared with the youngest ever manager of an English football club. Just last year, Romsey Town – from the tenth tier of English football – appointed James Phillips at 21! Sadly at time of writing, ‘The Town’ sit bottom of the table after losing 13 from 14 games under Master Phillips and I refer you to the aforementioned ‘Porsche keys’ analogy.
So what are Neil’s odds of adding that key missing promotion ingredient of consistency? My unquantified ‘slim’ tag remains in place after doing a bit of digging:
Point 1: In the past 14 seasons of the Championship (or old Division Two) there have been 34 managers who have got sides promoted to the top tier.
The average age? 46.
The youngest? Aidy Boothroyd, who was just 34 when he managed Watford in season 2005/06.
A decade on, most would respond with Aidy who?
Just 5 (15 per cent) of those 34 were under 40 in their promotion season. None of those 5 joined their club after Christmas in the successful season.
Point 2: You have to go back to 1988 (Coppell at 33) and 1980 (John Toshack at 31) for younger managers who gained promotion to the top level. But both started their respective jobs aged 28, so their achievements were not instant.
Point 3: Of the previous 24 Norwich managers – going back to Norman Low who was appointed in 1950 – the average age (up to and including Neil Adams) when given the job was 43. Ron Saunders was 39 when he led us to the top league for the very first time, in his third season in charge, Nigel Worthington was 41 and Paul Lambert also 41.
The Eddie Howe argument? Well, he was 31 when given the job but that was 6 years ago. We’re asking our man to do the same job in 4-5 months!
Of course, supporting a club is not all about historical context and numerical jiggery-pokery. It’s primarily about hope, pride and passion. And the new boss seems to have fired up those qualities already.
If Neil does get us to the summit in 2015, then David McNally will have handed ‘the keys’ to the right candidate, the record books will need to be revised and this old number-cruncher will happily eat that misguided ‘slim chance’ tag.