“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.
Bucks Canary says
Great article. Nothing to disagree with.
Great article Stewart, some thought amongst the heat of the argument.
I think there is a couple of other reasons why we should be patient with Alex Neil. Firstly, unlike the banalities of the Hughton era, he is honest about his mistakes and that is the first step in changing things for the better. Secondly, Football clubs are deeper than the team & the manager (e.g. Southampton) and ever since he’s been here Alex Neil has had transfer windows either without a head of recruitment or a chief executive. Any criticism of our recruitment since Neil has been at Norwich should consider that he has been hamstrung by the lack of a team to identify the right players (so we’ve gone for obvious targets like Naismith & McCormack) and a skilled negotiator to get them in or out of the door at the right price (so we’ve been stuck with players like Olsson & Brady who clearly don’t want to be here because we haven’t found more committed replacements).
Stuart – You will no doubt be pleased to see the back of 2016, which has seen relegation, McNally gone, Brexit, Trump……
Yes, I think Alex Neil may grow to be a good manager – but that will in his next job, after he has been sacked at Norwich and had time to reflect on all the things that went wrong here.
So often I just don’t rate his judgement – with choice players or tactics, and it is rare indeed that any existing manager can turn around a whole squad of players of whom many appear unhappy and unconfident.
Stewart Lewis says
Pab (3): You know me too well!
I’m also – though sometimes through gritted teeth – a believer in democracy.
As I hope the piece conveyed, I can see two sides to many of these debates – including about our manager. Cheers
Great piece Stewart.
I have to, however, partially disagree with Kobecanary (2)…..whilst Brady has made it patently obvious that playing in the championship is beneath him, Martin Olsson has been one of the few this season (in my opinion) to have shown a decent level of commitment – no doubt angling for a move to a Prem club in January. And therein lies another problem since with Toffolo’s loan at Scunthorpe being for all season (I think), our only other left back is Brady…
Derek P says
1. I could have gone with AN’s selection last Saturday had he not promised “wholesale changes” the week before. To say that and then make just one was asking for trouble. However, it highlight the imbalance in the squad. You could change the midfield 10 times over but the defence and forward are pretty much all we’ve got.
2. Where is Jez Moxey? I don’t want him popping up every week giving his thoughts on things that don’t really concern him (ala Gold & Sullivan) but surely part of his role is keeping fans onboard.
Sorry, here’s a 3rd! I have been a big AN fan and would hate to see him replaced by a “name” but there is clearly something wrong. He needs to be bold and go back to doing what served him so well in the promotion season. If that means upsetting some Senior players, then so be it.
Stewart you deserve a seat on the board for squeezing the only positives out of this scenario! Unfortunately, as true as your points are, the negatives list is becoming biblical in length!
Keep on clapping Stewart.
Stewart Lewis says
Johnstonpickle (7): Don’t know whether I’m seeing things through rose (or canary) tinted glasses, as you suggest.
If so, the last place I should be is on the Norwich City board. It needs all the balance and analytical wisdom it can muster.
Thanks everyone for the comments, as always.
Cyprus Canary says
Most of what you say in this article is credible and well thought out and apart from one statement I can understand if not agree with. I said in January last year that NCFC had a choice to make : stick with Alex or be relegated and I still firmly believe we had a squad capable of survival in the premier league.
As for the recognition of other viewpoints; I have a friend with whom I share an hours journey to play golf – he is an arch Tory with a capital T and I am a more socialist type with a small s. The thing is we both want the same thing a country in which business can thrive and a fair sharing of prosperity for all. It is just that we see a different way to get there. In terms of the current position of our football club, some want to give Alex more time but I can see no evidence of any change in his management since I made my January statement. I think we have a squad capable of promotion but not under the current regime.
All other views respected of course.
Stewart Lewis says
Cyprus Canary (9): Good response, well argued. Respect
I would not wish Alex Neil on a Sunday morning pub team because i am sure they would be able to get somebody better .
Off back to the lower leagues of Scottish football which is also a big part of the problem at Norwich , far too many Scots and Scottish football is on a par with Malta nowadays .
Stewart, I’m not sure that suggestions that Thompson could be dropped for the next game are all that “ridiculous” given the demotion of Pritchard after a sublime league debut to make way for the half hearted Brady. Neil’s comments after the game singled out thompson for some criticism and it’s fair to say that a good many people wouldn’t be at all surprised with the outcome. We shall see in little over a weeks time.
Stewart Lewis says
Chris (12): As you say, we’ll see about Thompson. I do see it as a slightly different situation from Pritchard.
Pritchard was certainly impressive in his first full game against Rotherham. But I think everyone understood it wouldn’t be the norm for him to start with Wes; with a tough away game at Fulham three days after Rotherham, I would’ve been surprised to see him start in it.
The gap between the Leeds and QPR games, and the nature of those two opponents, leads me to expect another start for Thompson – but time will tell. Cheers
General Melchett says
Phill (11) I think that could come back to haunt you with Saturdays game against the Jocks approaching. They are very likely to want it a good deal more than our overpayed useless England bunch. They may not beat us but by the end I’m sure England too will look like a team no better than the Maltese.
I like everyone am concerned with the current run of results and whilst the addage of you don’t become a bad manager/player etc over night is mostly true. I’m not sure that that hasn’t been the case with Neil. He has appeared; broken, directionless and confused since that beating by Newcastle in the PL. I have not seen any real evidence since that day of the driven manager who had a singleminded drive that could take him and us upwards. Its this loss of conviction that I think the players are picking up on and the malais is threatening to sink our promotion chances.
Can he turn it around? I’d still say maybe, if given enough time and cart blanche to cut out the fat in January. But can he be given that time if the results continue as is? How many more poor performances and results would it take for you to turn Stewart? Lose the next 3, What would you do?