For now at least Alex Neil is manager of Norwich City Football Club, so what follows is pure speculation…
Going back to when Neil Adams got the City manager’s job I was pretty happy. I’d watched his youth team quite a lot and it was clear he knew how to organise a team. I did however feel that it was probably too soon for him and that perhaps he should have been promoted to the U23s, then to first-team coach or assistant manager before getting the top job.
I also thought the timing of him getting the job was nothing short of ridiculous and set him up to fail. Why sack a manager with five games left? It should have been done either in December or not.
But when Alex Neil got the job I was gobsmacked. My main concern was that he’d not played at level higher than Norwich as a club, nor at a level higher than its players; both making it difficult for him to gain their respect.
He’d also managed Hamilton Academicals for just 77 games, albeit in that time he got them promoted and, at the point of his departure, was keeping them there. It felt to me like he needed more experience before getting a job like the Norwich one.
And, for me, this may be the root cause of where we find ourselves. I recall seeing an interview with Sam Allardyce where he quoted Sir Alex Ferguson as saying that man management in the top flight was the most difficult challenge. Alex Neil has discovered this the hard way.
Once his own confidence was knocked by the 6-2 drubbing by Newcastle, the cracks in his self-belief and the players’ belief in him became clear. A consequence of human nature I’m afraid.
Yet – and yes, I can be labelled a hypocrite – I’m now stuck with this crazy notion that we should yet consider some candidates with, arguably, less experience than Alex Neil.
[You’re crazy I hear you cry, but stay with me.]
I’m talking about giving either Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs or Steven Gerrard a shot.
If the problem is that the players don’t respect Neil due to his history, then these guys instantly command respect on their names alone. I accept it won’t automatically make them good managers but it feels to me like a risk worth taking.
Instinctively we should be considering a seasoned professional with experience of getting teams out of this league and keeping them in the Premier League. The problem is that’s a pretty short list.
When you then look at our last few managerial appointments in terms of salary and stature it falls into the realms of make believe.
So why not take a punt on one of these guys. If our players don’t respect them after what they’ve achieved in the game already then we really do need a total squad clear out, youth players aside.
They’ve all worked under some of the best managers of recent times; they’ve all captained their clubs and their countries, meaning they’ve been directly responsible for understanding their managers plans and for putting them into practice on the pitch.
They’ve all had to be leaders, they’re all winners and they’ve all got great networking options with big clubs. I’d argue that amounts to some great experience.
They also, like Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce before them, have to start somewhere. I’m sure many will feel Norwich City is too big to be their first stab at management but not so sure if this is the case once the yellow and green tinted spectacles have been removed.
If I was in their shoes I’d consider that a Championship club with a decent fan base and a good chance of promotion could be my perfect companion. And, although I’d probably like a club with a bigger transfer budget, I may consider supplementing the City squad with some youth options from clubs with whom I have links.
Gary Neville talks a great game on TV, has experience of coaching the England squad and had a coaching foray in Spain. You could of course argue that the latter two didn’t go well, but attempting to manage a foreign team was incredibly brave. He was very close to Sir Alex and was his trusted pitch representative for many seasons.
Ryan Giggs has been assistant to some decent managers and had the ear of the best of them all too. He managed Man Utd against us too – I was there, he did okay! It feels like he’s ready for his first proper role and waiting for the right opportunity. Could it be us?
Steven Gerrard looks like turning down MK Dons. Of the three he’s had the least experience so far but again has captained and led teams since his early-twenties. I also think he’d still be able to do a job in our midfield and could take players like Jonny Howson to another level.
So, in conclusion – and this may be a sign of my increasing desperation – I would be up for giving one of these guys a chance. I do think, however, that if we decided to go down this route they should get at least three seasons.
In an ideal world employing an experienced manager would be preferable, but I can’t see where that option comes from. I’d personally love Big Sam in place – he would be my first choice – but if it happened I would be even more gobsmacked than I was at the appointment of Alex Neil.