“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point being a damn fool about it”
W C Fields
That’s a motto, clearly, that a section of Norwich fans would like to see Alex Neil follow. If he’s not a quitter, they think he now ought to be.
However we judge what preceded them, the last two league games have been unpleasant viewing. Brighton was no less than shocking, and Alex made a big call to give the same players a chance to redeem themselves against Leeds. I missed the game, but all reports – and the words of AN himself – confirm the call didn’t work.
Suggestions that AN’s selection is so erratic that he’ll drop Thompson for the next game are ridiculous. They are, however, symptoms of an understandable frustration. AN’s decision-making, like his defenders, looks less than sure-footed right now.
Before we continue, a quick word (I promise) about Brexit – or rather, Twitter and Brexit. Though friends will attest I’m a mild bloke who’ll generally try to avoid confrontation, in this instance I’m managing to upset almost everyone.
You see, there are two camps who feel passionately about their case. I appreciate that; what I can’t stomach is unfairness. Neither camp will give any recognition to points and arguments from the other side, however reasonable.
So I push back on both. Brexit seems to me a hazard-ridden idea, not to be undertaken lightly. But so is reneging on a clear promise to implement the result of a referendum. Legal issues aside, how can each faction brush the other aside so dismissively?
I mention this because it seems relevant to the discussion of Norwich’s current woes. So let me now upset everyone with a mixed assessment of City’s season.
Up to Fulham, we weren’t firing on all cylinders – but it wasn’t terrible either. Eight wins out of twelve doesn’t happen by luck, even against teams in the bottom half (in some cases, teams in the bottom half only after we beat them).
Performances at Forest and Wolves were very good. My worry – and of course it’s a big one – is that in spirit and resilience they stand out as the exception rather than the rule.
Looking at current form in the Championship, a draw at Fulham was actually creditable. It’s the way it happened that’s frustrating – and trebly so at Newcastle. No-one seems to mention, though, that we’re unique in the past few weeks in being able to create a winning position at those two grounds.
Preston was a lacklustre one that, frankly, happens to everyone from time to time against stubborn and organised opponents.
But if Fulham and Preston were pebbles, the big issue was how we foundered and shattered against (sorry, can’t resist) Brighton rock.
Brighton was inexcusably bad. A positive show against Leeds was then needed, but not delivered. Questions to be asked? Absolutely. Can it be allowed to go on? Not long.
In the clear vision of hindsight, Alex Neil’s decision to give his players another chance was mistaken. Some fans said so at 3pm, and they’re at liberty to say “told you so”. Others, like me, were less sure at the time than we are now.
Alex now has a mandate for change; he surely will (and should) get the opportunity. If we’re to replace him, it must be before Christmas – but there are several games before then.
Can he turn it around? I don’t know. We do know that managers have done so, despite widespread scepticism among fans.
A couple of years ago Sam Allardyce – touted by some as a replacement for AN – faced something very similar at West Ham. Fans were convinced he’d lost it, but the Board stuck by him and he pulled the club out of the rut.
Alex Ferguson’s unpopularity after 18 months as manager of Man United (“he was fine at a small club in Scotland, but he’s out of his depth here”) is familiar enough to need no repeating.
I don’t buy the view that Alex Neil clearly failed in the Premier League. Yes, he made mistakes – but would another manager have achieved the good results he did? The basic fact is that we had too weak a squad to compete, in part because we failed to deliver the signings Alex asked for.
So, the jury’s out. And the foreman of the jury is Jez Moxey. Much is being made of Delia’s interview a few days ago, including her admission of being bamboozled by figures. Well, some wouldn’t have admitted that – and certainly wouldn’t have hired a David McNally.
Delia and Michael gradually handed McNally a deciding say in issues – the replacement of Neil Adams by Alex Neil perhaps the most striking example. They recognise the sentimental element of their attachment to the club, and why it sometimes needs to be overridden by tough judgement.
I suspect it’s why the job appealed to Jez Moxey, one of the few football Chief Executives most of us have heard of (as well as a boon to Scrabble players).
I gather Jez is a hard-nosed so-and-so, as well as a man who know his football. He understands Alex Neil’s qualities, but owes him (and the players) no special loyalty. Right now, and with January looming, I find that rather reassuring.
Personally, I remain convinced Alex Neil has the attributes to be a top manager. Can it happen here, or has he run his course at Norwich and needs a new start elsewhere? I wouldn’t pull the plug now, but of course there’s a point where stubbornness can become foolishness.
And there’s no point being a damn fool about it.