In previous columns, I’ve referred to the under-10’s football team that I coach – a team which earlier this season went through a series of results every bit as dire as Norwich City’s.
And as such, I confess that I feel a degree of empathy with Alex Neil.
As someone who used to ‘play a bit’, I understand the feeling of frustration he must have, watching from the sidelines and not being able to get out onto the pitch to lend a hand – or indeed a foot.
I also recognise his challenge – that of trying to reverse a run of wretched results when you’re working with the same group of players. The same faces, making the same collective mistakes, creating the same outcome.
The feeling of responsibility to turn it all round and develop a master-plan and the sense of utter dejection when those plans go down the pan.
Empathy – but not much sympathy.
Because whilst it’s not great watching your team under-perform week after week, unlike me, he gets paid for it (or at least he does for the time being).
But my lack of sympathy stems from one key concern. Namely that Alex Neil doesn’t fully accept his accountability for the present woes.
After the battering by Barnsley and the humbling by Huddersfield, Neil’s post-match comments suggest to me that our first-team manager is feeling more of a victim than a villain.
Or in his words a ‘scapegoat’.
Perhaps he has a point? After all, I’ve previously expressed the view that the club’s problems are deep-rooted and exist on many levels.
However, in every coaching course I’ve undertaken, there has been one fundamental message: the key responsibility of the football coach or manager is to create an environment where the players will flourish.
Something that Neil is clearly not delivering.
I accept that comparing the running of an under-10’s football team to trying to get a side promoted from the Championship is a bit glib. The level of scrutiny and pressure are obviously poles apart – especially as the earlier reference to ‘being paid for it’ means that livelihoods are at stake.
But I maintain that the underlying principles are the same.
In fact, it could be argued that Neil actually enjoys certain advantages over the grass-roots coach. For example, as the first-team manager there is one clear over-arching remit – to win football matches.
As daft as that sounds, in kids football the priority is on player development. Not only the technical and physical side but also on their social and physiological development.
What that means in real terms is a genuine focus on the players’ needs rather than results on the pitch. A focus on creating an inclusive environment and nurturing the children’s love of the game. Players’ involvement and their sensitivities are prioritised – often at the expense of results.
Alex Neil doesn’t necessarily have those considerations (although recent substitutions might make you wonder).
“I’m sorry I had to take Nelson off, Mr and Mrs Oliveira, it’s just I needed to give wee Cameron and Steven a run-out. It’s only fair after all.”
But the most important aspect of football coaching is the recognition that everything your players do is ultimately your responsibility and a reflection of the environment that you have created.
If they make a mistake, you need to consider what factors led to that mistake and how you may have contributed as the coach or the manager. An acceptance that your overall accountability extends way beyond tactics and team selections. The consideration that your every word and action will impact on the players’ mind-sets and influence their performance.
After the Barnsley game, Alex Neil admitted he had got the team selection wrong and received praise for doing so from certain quarters. However what troubled me was the undertone of the admission which effectively amounted to ‘I made the mistake of trusting the same players to perform’.
Equivalent to the most insincere of apologies i.e. ‘I’m sorry for thinking you were good enough’.
Not the most motivational of messages. Particularly when delivered to those you’re reliant on to deliver success.
Through word of mouth I recently learned that prior to the away game at Birmingham in late-August, Neil instructed the team to ‘show their class and out-play the opposition with possession-based football’. Following the 3-0 defeat, he then accused them in the media of over-playing.
Speculation perhaps but, if true, it’s unlikely to forge a common sense of trust.
But most worrying of all was his inference of becoming the scapegoat following the Huddersfield defeat.
If he genuinely feels hard done by for receiving criticism on behalf of his team and for the players’ failings then he’s lost sight of what his role and responsibilities are.
I’d like to add to Stewart’s and Ed’s festive greetings by wishing all of those who read and contribute to MyFootballWriter a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. 2016 has not been a great one for our football club and events both on and off the pitch have often polarised views and opinions. However the manner in which those views are discussed and debated is a credit to all.
Let’s hope that 2017 brings more things to cheer than jeer!
He’s just lost it totally. The whole saga is embarrassing and damaging. I know various individuals who have said they will no longer be going to the carra. I fear the long term damage this game the owners are playing with our club will have.
Glen L says
‘Everyone’ who knows anything about the beautiful game can see that his time is up and the damage he is doing to our football club. With a change of manager we can still get promoted this season so “sort it out Delia” before it’s too late.
martin penney says
Good stuff Steve.
When you write:”the key responsibility of the football coach or manager is to create an environment where the players will flourish. Something that Neil is clearly not delivering.” you hit the nail bang on the head.
Far from flourishing, I feel several of our players are, at best, stagnating under Neil.
I’ve never coached in my life but I do know no player wants to go into training knowing there is likely be a lousy atmosphere – even at my Sunday League level. Obviously I don’t know what it’s like at Colney but I doubt it’s a laugh a minute just now. Or has been for some time.
I endorse your wishes for 2017!
Just one point. Can no-one else understand the reason for Neil bringing Oliveira off in the Huddersfield game? Seems perfectly obvious to me, only minutes before, he had missed an absolute sitter, when he failed to lob the keeper into an empty net, the sort of chance most strikers can only dream about, and not his first failed attempt of the evening either. It was pretty obvious he wasn´t going to hit a barn door all night, he may as well bring him off. The fact that Neil then stayed with only one striker also makes sense. We were losing the midfield battle when we were 3 versus 3 in the 1st half, to go 2 versus 3, which he would have had to have done to accommodate another striker, would have been suicidal. Had Huddersfield for example gone 3 – 1 up, it would have been game over, at least Neil´s way kept us ín the game, and gave us a chance of getting something out of it. Chucking Bassong up front at the very end, was because it was kitchen sink time, which, as we know, also failed.
No, we didn´t lose that game because of any wrong decision-making on Neil´s part, we lost because we didn´t take the few chances we did make.
Can I apply to be your PA George, your so easily pleased!
From the first second Alex Neils plans were flawed by trying to play ‘possession based football’ against a team who press high when we don’t move the ball quick enough. Your point about not changing because we were losing the midfield battle…. the clue is there, we were losing the midfield battle. Why keep it the same? There are more formations than 4231 and 442, though we’ve admittedly not witnessed more than one of those for over a year and half! You also back up the other reason for changing, we created very little throughout the game!
Cyprus Canary says
May I throw in a comment from Chris Robshaw in an article discussing his change of outlook since Eddie Jones took over the England job: “He came in when I was particularly low on confidence… He gave us that confidence to go out there and express ourselves and play” England have won all of the thirteen matches since he took over. This is what a manager’s job is all about – getting players to perform to the best of their ability!! If we had a manager who could do that then with the available squad the playoffs would be in reach. Can I echo your comments about these discussions and the way people conduct them on mfw I enjoy them very much. Merry Christmas to all from (not so) sunny Cyprus.
Canary Mary says
I wish all the super fine CANARY fans for our beloved club a
HAPPY CHRISTMAS X
As for what’s happening to our club !!! I’m so unhappy at the state of affairs at present.We have an extremely experienced & talented squad of players here.As I see it a) they’re not being afforded the credit they deserve!b)apart from a view obvious ‘favourites’ are being played when others can freshen
a ‘tired’ team up! Noticeably by the complete absence of newly
signed players!! The Canoss’-The Pitchards etc..?
As for Stevie Naismith the guy is having a nightmare time ATM!
Yes Huddersfield was magnificent to watch!
Because as I saw it they would run through brick walls for THEIR MANAGER! Who I must say was a carbon clone of
Jurgen K x. AND he had the vision to change tired players (5) I think for the next game in 3days?
Just to mention as brilliant as Josh has been ?he’s being burnt out !!! Please don’t do a MICHEAL OWEN to him!
I think our players are frightened YES frightened to make mistakes! That’s why they DO!!!
My message to A.Neil! “be prepared to change your game plan & listen to others? Love all your players -give them ALL
a chance” No favourites then just watch the points come in X!!!
There is a very unhappy bunch of Canaries out there at the moment-& it’s not only the fans!
2017–NEW YEAR– new mind set X #NCFC#CTID
Stewart Lewis says
George (4): I admire you making points which you know are against the tide.
Like you, I disagree with anyone who’d have brought on Jerome for a midfielder. But with Huddersfield tiring and offering less threat on the counter, I’d have gone for three at the back – exactly as AN did ten minutes after the substitution.
If Jerome’s presence was going to create more knock-downs in dangerous areas, Oliveira was the obvious one we’d want them to fall to, not Bassong. Yes, he missed a couple of chances during the game – that’s what strikers do. Lineker missed hundreds, while being rightly remembered as a prolific scorer.
The bigger point is the one Steve hits on the head. Ultimately, the performance reflects the manager. We were second best to Huddersfield – by a distance – in terms of energy, commitment and belief.
The conclusion is inescapable.
Chris II says
I’m surprised nobody seems to have mentioned Pardew! Can’t say I like the guy but his experience is just what we need to get us out of this mess
Chris (10) I would be extremely happy to get Pardew and he has a good impact record too, but… I cannot see him working with the board. Pardew is still ambitious, the board are not. As Michael Bailey hinted at on Mustard T.V, consolidation rather than promotion is more inline with the boards mindset, though some fans cannot accept this.
Can I disassociate myself from the above comment please? I regularly post here as Chris. I don’t want Pardew.
Just to clarify Stewart(#8) – I don´t make points just because they happen to go against the tide. I honestly don´t think he did an awful lot wrong in THAT particular game, but it seems to me that at the moment, and for a relatively long while now, whatever decision he makes, is roundly criticised. Fans (and local media) have turned against him, they want him out, they can see no further than the fact that he is the root cause of all our problems – I just happen to disagree. He is undoubtedly, in part, responsible, but players, board, recruitment team, his coaches, all have played a part in our current predicament, so replacing him, which seems to be the overwhelming feeling at the moment, may only solve a fraction of the problem.
Gary Gowers says
George (12) Thanks first of all for your contributions to the recent debates around the future of our club. Though not, as you say, your direct intention, it has helped bring balance to something that without your input would’ve been one, long, one-sided call for AN’s dismissal.
Gary Gowers says
… but, as Stew has pointed out, most of us appreciate that removing AN from office and replacing him with AN Other will only be a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. Yet, for starters, it’s a necessary sticking plaster given his inability to create a suitably inspiring environment that Steve describes.
Gary Gowers says
… others wrongs within the club are, for now, rather more difficult to right but something(s) clearly needs to change else we risk disappearing into obscurity.
That’s just my opinion though.
Happy Christmas y’all
martin penney says
#12 George and #15 Gary: Most of us understand that the problems surrounding NCFC go much deeper than Alex Neil still being in the managerial hot-seat.
To add to Gary’s point, we cannot seal the gaping wound but it is perfectly possible to give it a chance to stabilise itself with a roll of industrial-strength Elastoplast and the correct antibiotics.
It depends on the will and ability of the “Chief Medical Officer” to supply it.
Steve Cook’s point about the coaching-managerial set-up and its relationship to the atmosphere at Colney remains at the hub of everything to me.
And a huge question mark hangs over the recuitment consultants.
Anyway, 48 hours away from it for all of us, so Happy Christmas y’all from me too.
Agree with George in as much as Alex Neil is not the only, or main problem besetting our club. He rightly points to several other villains of the piece whose actions and efforts have fallen way short of the standard required for a while now.
Again I find myself agreeing with George in that the dismissal of Neil will solve but a fraction of the problem. However, solving a fraction is preferable to solving nothing, which is the current course of (in)action. A decide rent and better perspective on team selection and set up and training methods and perhaps bringing in some of the frozen out players from the icy cold would improve results that, let’s face it, couldn’t get any worse,
Where I find I must take issue with George is that the constant calls for Neil’s head on a stick aren’t in the main personal, they are the desperate cries for sanity and restoration of some semblance of pride and self respect as a club.
As ever, Neil has to suffer the inevitable mounting frustration and anger as the focal point in this board of directors, mainly the owners, sentimentality and total inability to run a business in a cut throat, unforgiving sector of industry,
In the past twenty years, we have had to endure this farce, from the terrible appointment of Bryan Hamilton and the damage that caused, with the extra horror of smith refusing to take the clueless mans resignation after the players told him to go at colney. This episode set me against the stewardship of smith and Jones ever since and I have witnessed through tears of frustration the grant, roeder, worthington, gunn, Adams and hughton fiascos, where welcomes have been overstayed with monotonous regularity and many of these in the name of all that’s sane should never have been given the job in the first place. It beggars belief.
Other golden moments have included the owner stumbling onto the pitch and slurring and ranting in the manner of a fishwife to the delight of a television audience that still doesn’t miss the chance to take the whatever.
We’ve had relegation to the third division of English football, which represents a gross failure on the part of a football club of the size of Norwich city.
We’ve been fed, live on local radio a heap of bull about “searching the whole of Europe” for a top manager before emerging with Neil Adams. Purely insulting, conduct unbecoming, simply not good enough.
We will brush over the successive transfer window fiascos, the vile “prudence with ambition” codswallop for the sake of space and time.
The latest classic came in the form of a smug, self satisfied interview, a master piece of poor judgment timed to perfection to run concurrently with one of the poorest sequences of results in the clubs 112 year history. Sneering at supporters who wouldn’t like the content, setting up a nepotistic line of succession to benefit an obscure relative with neither the experience, knowledge or money to take on the task of managing the hopes, pride, prestige and sporting standard bearer for hundreds of thousands of people linked in some way to Norwich or Norfolk or east anglia. A act in blunt contravention to apparent left wing political leanings held by the ownership. As was the rant agains foreign ownership and foreign players, which was embarrassing and insulting to several foreign players currently trying to work under difficult circumstances and have been welcomed with huge warmth and respect if you believe what the players themselves say.
Enough is more than plenty, I’m with George, Neil is doing his best, it isn’t good enough but he isn’t the biggest obstacle Norwich city faces in the future. The most frightening aspect of this crisis is at the very top of the club.
It´s still rather too early to say whether it will be a Merry Christmas yet, and particularly whether or not it will be a Happy New Year, when that time arrives, but we can but hope. 🙂
Cyprus Canary says
What a great discussion! Thanks to all for providing a classic fans discussion with divergent views and no animosity which is what you miss as a remote supporter of the club