“All political careers end in failure”
Enoch Powell’s observation highlights one of the interesting similarities between the worlds of politics and football.
When we think of Sven-Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson, do we remember their stellar, trophy-laden careers in club management? Or is our abiding image their failure to meet our expectations of delivering success with England?
It’s the second, of course. Perhaps at some point we might examine those expectations, and question whether it’s actually realistic to expect England to swat away Johnny Foreigner and win every tournament going. But for the time being, the verdict is simply that those managers failed.
With or without a brolly, they’re all wallies.
Most managers finish their career being sacked. For every Alex Ferguson – not that you can find many of them – there are far, far more who don’t choose the time and manner of their retirement.
Whenever it happens, the departure of Delia and Michael from Norwich City is likely to be in average (or worse) circumstances rather than happy ones. Though I hope there’ll be recognition of what they’ve done – in their case, saving the club would be no exaggeration – I doubt it’ll be all roses and fanfares.
Before going any further, let me stress this isn‘t a piece about Delia and Michael’s current stance and decisions. That’s for other articles and other days.
There’s an interesting twist, though, to leaving the spotlight. In sport – and even in politics sometimes – absence does seem to make the heart grow fonder. Our disdain for ‘boring’ Steve Davis and ‘brat’ John McEnroe during their playing careers has turned, with the passing of time, to affection.
Closer to home, while David McNally was in post I wrote a number of pieces here in praise, or defence, of him. The great bulk of readers’ comments were negative, often vehement in their attack on me, McNally or both.
Whatever dog’s abuse is, I got it.
Social media during last week’s AGM couldn’t have been a greater contrast. It was no less than an outpouring of love for our former CEO: “You saved us before, David – please come back and save us again”.
So much so that a little push in the other direction is called for. Like Delia and Michael, David McNally did things for Norwich City that warrant our admiration and eternal gratitude. But he wasn’t without fault.
In the case of McNally now, and Delia & Michael in due course, there’s justification for retrospective praise. While the heat of frustration leads fans to nastiness like “the two dotty old pensioners”, I genuinely believe there’ll be a time when we look back on Delia and Michael’s time at City with nostalgia.
It doesn’t mean they got everything right. It means their hearts were in our club, and they put their money, time and energy where their hearts were.
I was working in London, though known to colleagues as a City supporter, at the time of Delia’s “let’s be ‘aving you” episode. Norfolk friends were worried for me, expecting me to be roundly taunted. Not so. The main response from colleagues who supported other clubs was “wish our owners cared half that much”.
In other cases, though, absence doesn’t just make the heart grow fonder – it seems to befuddle our memory and judgement.
With expectation of pushback, I’ll say this: there’s been nothing in Kyle Lafferty’s 20+ Championship appearances for Norwich to justify the clamour for him to start games.
No – his big appeal seems to be that he hasn’t been in the team for a while. The same thing has happened with a number of our defenders, including Russ, Ryan Bennett and even Steven Whittaker. The longer they’re out of the team, the less we remember what we didn’t like before and the better we imagine them.
Perhaps we should call it Becchio Syndrome (though from some of the things I’ve heard about Becchio, I’m surprised he ever got as close to the first XI as he did).
So how will Alex Neil’s career end, in football generally and more immediately at Norwich City?
One way or another, December will be crucial. Either the team will produce some results and confident performances – almost certainly that way round – or there won’t be change and he’ll be looking for another job.
Unlike some fans, I can envisage either scenario. And it was interesting, on Saturday, to hear an informed but fresh perspective.
If I can’t make a game, I’m in the hands of Radio Norfolk. Having been critical in these columns of one of its presenters, let me praise the excellent Chris Goreham. On Saturday, though, the main interest was his fellow presenter and Canary legend Mark Robins.
While being polite to negative Canarycallers – including one who labours under the sad misapprehension that we’ve received £250 million from the Premier League – Mark held to his view: Alex Neil is an outstanding young manager who should be given time to get it right at Norwich.
That’s a view I’ve heard from several quarters, mostly from folk who know their football but aren’t tied emotionally to our club. It doesn’t mean they’re right, but it’s interesting to hear. Especially when angry fans say “anyone but our blinkered Board can see…”
Whatever transpires, one thing’s for sure. Neither Alex Neil nor any other manager will be allowed to become an expert as once defined by the Nobel-winning physicist Niels Bohr:
“An expert is a man who has made all the possible mistakes in his field”