As you may have seen in the news, scientists have detected signals that may be emanating from a parallel universe.
When I hear such things, I can’t help the thought: “wonder how Norwich are doing there?” Juvenile, I know, but not completely illogical. If there’s more than one universe – listen carefully, there’ll be a test later – there are probably many, and likely an infinite number.
Most of them will be fundamentally different from ours. But in an infinite number, some will be very similar to our own, just with subtle and bizarre differences. Stewart Lewis might be creating the works of Shakespeare; Ricky van Wolfswinkel may be scoring (well, perhaps not THAT bizarre).
While it’s fun to imagine what our other selves might be getting up to in parallel universes, it’s time to return to the business of Norwich City in this one. But for a minute I’ll stay with the theme of people living on another planet, as we turn to those who are starting to question Alex Neil.
After four defeats, some are wondering if AN’s inexperience is undermining us and whether we should make a managerial change. I’m not often moved to quote Mrs Thatcher, but in this case I can’t improve on her response to Jacques Delors: “No! No! No!!”
What’s the greatest barrier to football clubs’ success? Short-termism. It’s what separates Southampton from Leeds; it’s why Manchester City won nothing for 25 years while their neighbours won everything.
Southampton’s chairman recently outlined the club’s philosophy. In essence it’s: “We know what we believe, and apply it to every decision; we don’t look for short cuts, but build and earn success; we don’t panic, we’re consistent”.
Few would disagree with such sentiments, but it’s remarkable how many clubs act differently. Southampton practice much of what they preach, as do Swansea. No wonder those clubs are successful and held up as a model for Norwich.
Occasionally a club has a special opportunity to build, if it has a young manager with a presence and talent out of the ordinary. Right now, we have one in Alex Neil.
Will we survive in the Premier League this year? I don’t know (though I suspect we will). But I’m more certain of something else. In 4-5 years’ time I want Norwich to be firmly established in the top division. Are we more likely to achieve that by keeping or ditching Alex Neil? I say keep.
I’d stick with Alex even if we go down this year. And what’s more, I’d make that clear to him now. It’s an unfashionable way of thinking, I know, and some will be horrified at that thought. How can we get the best out of him if he knows his job is safe?
I can only speak from experience of managing people and observation of AN. Yes, I’ve had some employees who would give more if they felt their job was under threat. But they were always the exception. Most will give their best if the organisation makes them want to, or if they have an inner pride and drive that won’t let them give anything less.
Alex Neil is clearly in that last category. We don’t need to whip him to get the best out of him; more likely, we’ll deepen his commitment to us if we show our commitment to him.
It’s well known, but instructive, that Man United fans had lost patience with their own Alex – Ferguson – after 18 months in charge. Their board considered sacking him, as their neighbours City would certainly have done, but they swallowed hard and committed themselves to their young manager. The rest is history.
Alex Neil’s immediate challenge, of course, is to get his players to cut out the costly individual errors of recent games. For our fans, the answer looks simple: tell them to stop it. But have you ever been in a similar situation? Did it help for others to tell you not to make mistakes?
If you’ve played any sport, you’ll have seen the strange mechanics of confidence. Even a golfer at the amateur extreme (i.e. me) knows how it works: when you’re confident you don’t think about it, when you think about it you’re in trouble.
Alex has to work out how to break that cycle. The answer may be different for different players. Even among the writers on this forum, there are mixed views on whether John Ruddy should start against Swansea. As far as I’m concerned, Alex Neil sees them every day in training and his judgement is good enough for me.
Sorry to leave you here, but another writing assignment calls. Now:
To be or not to be….