When was the last time you listened to or read comments from Alex Neil or a City player and thought “they don’t mean that” or “what is he on about?”
Last weekend perhaps?
Well the likelihood is I was looking into their eyes as they said it.
It’s a funny thing reading lines of text. You can interpret it pretty much however you want, no matter how it was intended, not to mention once it’s been put in the context any journo or fan page is trying to focus on.
But when you hear it coming from the horse’s mouth and look directly into their eyes you sometimes fall for it, hook, line and sinker.
I personally think Alex Neil is doing a decent job.
Tactics, formations and substitutions are always easily analysed in hindsight and when we’re not the ones being told “gaffer, I’m shattered, I need to come off…” And there’s no accounting for when players make stupid decisions; decisions that no manager, coach, or parent would ever suggest – even to an Under-5’s team. (And yes, I am referring to Brighton).
What I like most about him is, so far, he’s been a normal bloke. And I mean that in a selfish way, because I have to talk to him.
It’s hard speaking to someone who answers every question with pre-organised answer. Or those managers who fancy themselves so much they ignore the question completely and just tell you how good they are.
But I believe him when he says he’s not concerned about clean sheets. Not because he’s arrogant about giving away goals, but because he really believes his side will out-score his opponents.
I also believe him when he says he’s frustrated and angry when he loses.
The only trouble with trusting him is it makes losing worse! But will I ever learn?
I took it quite personally when Norwich lost embarrassingly to Sunderland in the Premier League last season. I actually felt betrayed.
And the reason was that Alex looked me in the eye a day or two before the game and with a glint and a knowing smile he said, “We’ll be okay.”
He said it in such a way, with a wry smile. What did he know that no-one else did? It was like he knew of a secret tunnel that ran beneath Fort Knox and he’d paid-off the security guard to turn a blind eye.
But he didn’t. And we weren’t okay. It was a disaster.
Had I been duped? Had I fallen for his hype?
No I hadn’t.
He really believed it. He believed he had the answer to our prayers of staying in the Premier League – starting with a win over Sunderland.
The same goes for Russell Martin’s reaction to the defeat on Saturday.The words on a page don’t speak with the volume that the post-match video did.
Martin was hurting. He always does. He was the one who was shipped out to talk to the press almost every week in the run-in as the Canaries approached relegation.
He’s an honest, intelligent man and someone who deserves more credit than he get, especially when he’s put in an impossible position – defending the indefensible.
I’m hoping that Brighton away will be the wake-up call that Norwich City needed.
The lost-lead at Fulham… A hoodoo. The defeat to Preston at home… a tad unlucky. Out of the League Cup at Leeds… a penalty lottery.
But 5-0 at Brighton away… unacceptable.
I don’t always look forward to press conferences on a Friday ahead of a match. Yes, I am in a privileged position in that I’m able to speak to the manager, but it’s not like catching up with a mate over a pint.
The job is to desperately try and ask something different from the last 400 press conferences. Something that doesn’t end up with an “It’ll be a tough game… We need to bounce back.”
And before someone suggests any, most of the overly aggressive questions will end with him not answering it at all and then not answering anything else with any gusto.
But this week I am looking forward to it.
I want to see what his eyes tell me. Whether he’s still angry. Whether this is just another game. Or whether he feels his players will make up for letting themselves, the fans and him down.
People often forget, it’s not just the words that people say – it’s how they say them.
If Alex Neil didn’t care, I’d be worried. For now, I’m not.