19 December 2016
I wrote this letter three nights ago, but held off from posting it. It was penned in the aftermath of our defeat to Huddersfield; I wondered, as the raw disappointment subsided, whether I might feel differently.
I’ve taken considerable flak for defending you through 2016. No regrets about that: you were dealt a weak hand to play in the Premier League, and in my view your sensational impact here two years ago earned you time – and the benefit of the doubt – for the first months of this season.
I still believe you have exceptional qualities, and potentially a long and successful managerial career in front of you. Moreover, I admire your reluctance to quit.
However, life sometimes puts us in situations where – without any need for rancour or bitterness – the right thing to say is “this just isn’t working”. Situations where the best thing, for both parties, is to go separate ways.
This season has been a strange one. The greatest challenge of managing a relegated side is to shift the mentality from a losing one to a winning one. It seemed City had overcome that hurdle, with a set of results that saw us second after 14 games.
The confidence and mental resilience which should have flowed from those results, though, never materialised. We had the quality to get two goals ahead at places like Fulham and Newcastle – for which you should perhaps have received more credit – but we lacked character and conviction to defend those leads.
That character and conviction is an essential quality (I’m pretty sure you’d agree) in a team that wants promotion. For whatever reason, you are not able to inspire it in this group of players at this time.
Why have I come off the fence after Friday night? I think it was the stark contrast between Huddersfield and ourselves. Huddersfield’s players are no better than ours, but they were a far better team. They played with an energy, verve and belief that we couldn’t match, and in truth haven’t matched all season.
I’m no psychologist, but at times your judgement suggests to me a bit of fatigue. The way Barnsley or Huddersfield approach a game is no secret – yet you sent out teams neither tactically nor physically equipped to deal with them. The choice of Josh Murphy to replace Steven Naismith at Barnsley was bizarre, as was the withdrawal of Nelson Oliveira on Friday.
Yes, the players should take their share of responsibility for under-performance but tactics and team selection are in your hands, and your decisions have not been as sure-footed as we (or you) would want.
You’ve been under intense pressure for the past twelve months. The way you’ve conducted yourself has been, in my view, admirable. But being the proud man you are, you may be the last to recognise that a break would benefit you.
Time is on your side and I believe you’ll come back stronger; you’ve left us great memories and we’ll wish you every success. Trying to continue as we are now, though, is not going to help either you or us.
19 December 2016
First, a belated welcome to Norwich. You’re steeped in football, and you will be well aware of the club’s values and traditions that remain important for many of us.
As is our desire to be in the top division. I’ve no reason to think you’re anything but sincere when you say your objective is “promotion, promotion, promotion”. That’s our objective too.
But if you will the end, you must will the means. I think my letter to Alex shows I understand why you wanted him to succeed, and believed he might. However, you’ve witnessed what the rest of us have witnessed. The view that most City fans have come to – some quickly and others, like me, slowly – is surely now an inescapable one.
You are closer to the club than we are, and have some special sources such as the players. I find it hard to believe, though, that they tell you anything different from the evidence of your eyes watching our 22 games.
You know that challenging for promotion will be more difficult with each succeeding season; we must give it the best shot we can this year. To do that, we need a run of strong results that Alex just isn’t capable of inspiring.
Like me, you face a decision that you hoped you wouldn’t have to face. Easy for me: all I have to do is admit I’ve changed my mind. Your responsibility is bigger and action harder. But it’s what you’re paid for.
I, and all City fans, wish you well.
Finally, let me wish a heart-felt Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year to everyone associated with Norwich City Football Club. And to everyone associated with this site: writers, commenters (whether or not we’ve agreed!), and above all to Gary whose sterling efforts keep the site going and give us enjoyment throughout the year.