Now we’ll see what Alex Neil is made of.
I can’t share the view that the transfer window was a disaster for us. Clearly, the ultimate judgement will depend a bit on the impact that Oliveira and Pritchard have on the season ahead, but it’s not the end of the world – especially with the retention of key players such as Klose.
Having said that, the window clearly wasn’t ideal either. The club hoped to bring in more players, linked (at least financially) to one or two leaving us. The collapse of those deals, whatever the cause, leaves Alex with some challenges.
Of the post-window squad, one or two know we wanted to move them on; one perhaps wanted to go (though not enough to make it happen, apparently), one maybe not. At least one of the players for whom we rejected bids would have preferred to leave.
So we’ve refreshed the squad, but it’s a mix of mindsets. Alex and the players must be well aware of the fans’ discontent, exacerbated by a lousy performance in the last game. Team selection doesn’t take care of itself (though I don’t think we’ll see Steven Naismith as an out-and-out striker again). The players will be looking to their manager.
This is where leaders step up and make their presence felt.
No-one could say that Alex has had an easy time of it. After sweeping all before him in the Championship (more of that later), he had a real baptism of fire in the Premier League – a 34 year old, with the most modest squad in the division, taking on the world’s elite.
By his own admission, he made errors that were among the contributory factors to our relegation. (Arguably, the biggest factor was our failure in summer 2015 transfer window – had Koulibaly signed for us as promised, surely things would have been different.)
Let’s quickly go back to the 2014-15 season, when Alex joined us with 24 games gone, 22 to go. I’ve argued on here that Neil Adams did a decent job: we were seventh when he left, well above Cardiff and Fulham who came down with us and were heavily tipped to bounce straight back.
But Alex Neil did better with the same players. His 22 games in charge produced 49 points (best in the Championship over that period) and his team conceded 19 goals (also best in the Championship). That’s right, we conceded fewer than anyone else, with Martin and Bassong anchoring the defence.
So Alex has some special ability, reflected in the comments that players have made (including some not in the team). Has he lost that ability, or his confidence in it? Is he up to the tricky personnel challenge now facing us?
Time will tell, and some people whose opinion I respect have their doubts. But it seems to me we have reason to give him the benefit of the doubt.
For a start, he’s his own man. His post-match interviews remain straightforward and plain-speaking; he doesn’t say what the interviewer is fishing for, nor do you hear the interview and think “was he at the same game?” His priority is neither to be political nor to cover his backside.
No-one watching him can doubt the fire in the belly. From my seat in the City Stand, I vividly remember the touchline demeanour of Neil Adams, or Nigel Worthington in his last season with us. When things went awry, they had an expression of despair and helplessness. Alex knows what he wants; his irritation is reminiscent of Ferguson or Mourinho rather than Tim Sherwood.
An interesting issue is his involvement with transfers. In contrast to the common view that he’s being let down by the Board, I understand – including from his own comments – he’s involved and is realistic about the club’s financial position. It seems he was part of the decision that the McCormack deal, as demanded by Fulham and the player, was ultimately wrong for us.
That said, of course he’ll be disappointed we couldn’t do more. But the two characterisations we’ve seen of him on social media (“he’s ambitious and he’ll walk” or “he’ll stay because Norwich is the best he’ll ever get”) both seem wide of the mark.
I’ve no doubt Alex is ambitious, though his feet are less itchy than Paul Lambert’s. That’s partly a factor of age – while certainly young, Lambert was six years older than Alex Neil at the time each took charge of Norwich. Alex has time on his side (as did Lambert whose judgement may be debatable, but that’s another story).
At this stage, do we judge Alex Neil on the Blackburn game or the Birmingham one? I’d say neither. Judge after ten games minimum, with maybe some preliminary thoughts after the two coming up at Carrow Road.
Meanwhile, I see no sign of panic in our Alex. Looking back on the time in 1989-90 when his job was under threat, another Alex – Ferguson – reflects:
“I knew I was doing the job the right way. We simply had to get on with it”
That attitude – confident but the right side of arrogant – served him well. I think there’s something similar in our version.
el dingo says
No need to panic, agreed. What I think is vital is to get Olsson and Pinto back as soon as medically possible!
Brady is wasted at LB imo and as for SW he is too slow, too easily turned and error-prone. A fit RM surely has to be a better option at RB.
We need MO and IP to supply the width because without them we appear to play very narrow, making it easy for the opposition to crowd us out – particulaly when Wes and Naismith play together. I also would like to see Jonny Howson played further forward, but we have so many decent midfielders I would struggle to pick the best combination tbh.
While the mood might be ugly on social media (I don’t do Twitter so don’t know) it doesn’t seem to bad in the UB – a bit flat, but nothing poisonous. Early days yet.
It’s got nothing to do with Neil, he has gone from the epitome of progression to a myopic learner who is too stubborn to change. Neil was everything I wanted in a manager, but has proved its his player quality and not his own ability that will shine through. This will be proven true now the window is shut and they cant get away, although most want out. The only way to achieve what they are after is to get us back to the prem so they don’t need to leave or play well and force a prem clubs hand to throw in an unavoidable bid. We have retained these players in body, not spirit after all which tells us all we need to know about Neil. He is not respected enough by the players to get them playing well consistently (proven last year and this year to date) or truly want to stay and fight for him, too weak to make big decisions on players, too tactically poor to select players in the correct position and unaware of exactly what type of player he needs next. As I say, I think we will do well from now on based on the players, not the manager, which doesn’t bode well for future seasons because everyone will be deluded into believing it’s Neil once more. Pity because his style of play is boring…plain and simple. I have shifted from touting him as a potential genius before he signed to wanting to see the back of him as soon as the next bus to Gt Yarmouth arrives.
el dingo says
#2 Jeff: You make some good points but as the fallout from the window settles surely AN must be given some time to see what he can achieve? Just how much time that should be I’m not sure, but you can’t judge a season on the first five games.
I agree we have mistakenly retained players who basically don’t want to be here. I don’t know how much (lack of) respect comes into it but we’ll find out over the next few games.
Rumour has it the one who was keenest to get out could have achieved it but money demands stood in the way of the escape. And that is an attitude or an agent-inspired problem that cannot be laid at the door of AN.
I just hope the other rumour that this particular player must be selected x amount of times per season and has that fact written into his contract is untrue. We were better off without him imo and the purchase smacked of panic.
Oh well, as ever, we’ll see. Starting on Saturday.
Cosmo P. says
Fine piece Stewart.
It’s a bug bear of mine that increasingly in the modern era, managers seem to have the cop out that not enough money being spent means they can’t do their job properly – Tony Pulis is the prime example.
As you say, Alex’s job now is to get the maximum effort and reward from a very good squad (on paper) through his coaching and managerial skills – that’s how I want to see him earning his money and taking the club forward..not complaining that the club hasn’t backed him/brought in the players he wanted etc etc. (which he hasn’t done but some fans seem to think is his mindset).
The great managers (Clough, Revie, Shankly, Robson & early Ferguson) and not the modern money-burners (Mourinho, Guardiola etc) forged a winning mentality in a tightly-knit group of players through their ability to coach and man manage average-good players to greater heights. It would be great to see the game return to that ideal (won’t happen I know).
The club gave Alex a fantastic opportunity to establish himself as one of the brightest touchline talents from these isles. After one promotion and one relegation, I’d say he’s on an even keel. He and the club now need to push on with the fans backing – best of luck to them.
Stevie M says
Jeff I think your boiling anger regarding AN which you vent on a regular basis is leading you speculate pretty wildly on aspects of the club that you can’t reasonably know about.
‘Most want out’,’He is not respected enough by the players’,’too weak to make big decisions on players’, ‘unaware of what type of player he wants next’. All these speculative and unbalanced criticisms are unhelpful to the club at this point in time.
I agree with the majority view of fans that AN must be given a chance. We can only hope that those recently linked with an exit will be professional enough to bring their A-game to the cause over the coming months.
Ben K says
Jeff, you should have your own column. Is there anywhere else we could see your wisdom pouring forth?
The fact that you were hailing anyone as a genius before you’d seen them in action is quite revealing. And now you want rid, as if that would be the best thing for the club. I suppose Steve Bruce is going to ride to the rescue, is he?
I know it’s a lot more fun to be frothing at the mouth over these things, but the truth is a lot more boring. We’d like things to be better but they’re really not that bad. We do have a decent squad, and the advantage that comes with the absence of having to make a team out of a number of players who’ve never played together. Teams will sit and defend against us, both home and away, so we’re not going to walk this league, but we’re in a decent enough position to have a stab at promotion. For the limited resources the club has, that’s not bad at all.
Peter C says
Alex Neil now has his chance. According to my calculations he has a squad of around 28 players. 50% of those have joined under his watch and further players have been given new contracts whilst he has been here. The Club has said they feel we have a squad that should be able to compete at the top end of the Championship. He now needs to develop a team from that squad to achieve this. If there are players who are already focuusing on leaving in January rather than the job in hand it is for him to recognise that and do something about it. If by the end of the year he can keep us in or around the top 6 we will go into the next transfer window in a position of strength. If we begin to drop off the pace then he will be no better than Adams and I expect the club will go for a change. Can he do it? I have my doubts. But that is irrelevant. It is the Club that has all the evidence and they will take the decisions.
Mr. Grouchy says
An interesting and well written article with (mostly) some thoughtful comments. A cut above other boards I’ve seen. As to management ability, all I would say is that a good manager gets the very best out of the raw materials that he has to work with, come what may. If AN can do this he will be a good manager (not a great one- yet) and if he can’t then he needs to find his level elsewhere.
Stewart Lewis says
Thanks for everyone’s comments.
Much to agree with, but perhaps Peter C (7) gets to the nub. While he didn’t get everything he wanted in this window, AN has a strong squad at his disposal for the months ahead. He now has his chance; up to him to show us what he can do.
5 & 6 – I bet you also supported hughton right up until the last, but will deny it. Frothing at the mouth? Good one. That’s a classic sign of ‘your opinions don’t matter because its not positive, so lets just say you’re rabid and shush you’. Its pathetic guys and you need to wake up to the real world. Mark my words, Neil will not last. I am allowed an opinion opposite to yours. Neil has shown he has no place in the premier league and is not up to standard. Managers get one chance, no matter what age. Do you honestly think hughton will get another gig in the prem? How about olly or Phil brown? Neil had his chance and simply couldn’t learn how to pick a suitable team, therefore does not fit in the top flight. History tells us that, but you can ignore it all you like with patronisation and ignorance. The problem we face is that our owners will be deluded enough to think he is worth another shot, which once again smacks of no footballing knowledge because anyone knows you don’t try again with the same team and same manager…time and time again. No, I don’t believe Neil deserves time to show us what we already know. That’s not frothing at the mouth or being some type of doctor evil in the making, its plain reality based on obvious footballing trends. The fact fans want to hold on to certain players and managers and yet want to progress as a club is laughable at best. Once failure has been achieved, failure will be your only achievement.
Ps. Ben k – using Steve Bruce has to be the weirdest example. I don’t particularly want him in, but you are comparing a manager who is showing a distinct lack of everything a manager versus one who is very successful at achieving what we need. Football, in case you didn’t know, is a chances game and Steve Bruce enhances your ability to stay up through the experience of his successes. That highlights the very inefficiencies of the debates against mine. Very, very odd and I’m perplexed you could even attempt to raise that one.
Stewart Lewis says
Jeff: Thanks for your further comments (10/11).
I didn’t respond to your earlier one, starting “Neil has gone from the epitome of progression to a myopic learner”. Sorry – it just doesn’t work that way. Alex Neil had a golden run when he joined us, bringing spark to the team and aided by a couple of bits of good fortune. He then faced a season in the Premier League that’s worth reflecting on.
Looking at the squads going into the season, most pundits thought the club left adrift would be Norwich, not Villa. Alex Neil’s response to having less good players than the opposition was to juggle his resources and pick different teams – something that, by his own admission, he probably overdid.
But there were tactical triumphs too. The amounts Newcastle players have been sold for this summer reminds us what a quality squad they had last season. They came to Norwich at a crucial stage, managed by a Champions League winner – and Alex outwitted and beat them.
Should an obviously talented 35 year old who goes down, narrowly, with the weakest squad in the Premier League deserve to be written off as you demand? If you’d been a Man United fan back in 1989, it’s clear you’d have been calling for Fergie’s head (and probably more).
Second chances sometimes make a lot of sense, and prove the greatest investment. I may turn out to be wrong, of course, but I’ve rarely seen a more obviously case for it than Alex Neil.
Ben K says
Morning, Jeff. I wouldn’t really say that anyone’s opinion actually ‘matters’ on this site. It’s just a place where people share views and thoughts. None of them are of any consequence. I didn’t say that your opinion doesn’t matter, in any case.
I can’t really tell what it is that you’re saying about Steve Bruce, although it does sound like you’re saying he’d be an improvement. My point was that sacking Alex Neil would be a knee-jerk reaction and that suggesting it as the best course of action is all well and good, but you’d have to get someone else in. I’d love to hear your thoughts on who that should be.
Dave H says
Speaking of bring perplexed Jeff (11), I’m slightly confused by you saying ‘once failure has been achieved, failure will be your only achievement’ and yet only 5 minutes later you contradict state the virtues of Steve Bruce. He, like Alex Neil was manager of a team that got relegated which by your definition is failure yet he then achieved a promotion. As did Sean Dyche, who for me is an example of why we should stick with Alex Neil.