Alex Neil cuts a confident figure as he begins task of proving he is worthy of Norwich City job
As Alex Neil settles into his new job as Norwich City manager, Michael Bailey takes a look at the first impressions he made…
Alex Neil’s Accies Fact File
• Took over as Hamilton manager in May 2013 following the departure of Billy Reid, who went on to coach in Swedish football.
• Scottish Championship, 2013-14: The Accies finished second behind champions Dundee with 67 points from 36 games.
• They then went into the play-offs and beat Gary Holt’s Falkirk 2-1 on aggregate, before seeing off Hibernian on penalties in the final after a 2-2 aggregate draw.
• Neil left Hamilton third in the Scottish Premiership, just four points behind leaders Aberdeen with a record of P 20, W 12, D 3, L 5, F 36, A 19, Pts 39.
It’s the plight of the football manager that their job comes with one, crucial constant – the task of proving yourself. It doesn’t matter how well the previous 17 years went, how secure reputations become. It can all unravel in an instant if – and all too often when – things go awry.
The job comes with enough thrill, spill and adoration that the list of wannabees never dwindles. If anything, it’s always growing. The betting for every vacancy is a litany of candidates hoping for that next chance to prove themselves. Again.
And let’s be frank – you’re more likely to see a manager leave under a cloud than on a pedestal.
Alex Neil is certainly young for a manager and relatively inexperienced – although, don’t write off the fact he has already managed for 70-plus games.
He is also one of the rare ones; he most definitely left Hamilton Academical on a pedestal.
That got him the Norwich City job – Neil’s big chance. But from the moment that contract was signed, the proving started all over again, and from scratch.
The Scot strode into his Colney press conference on Friday lunchtime faced by four-times the media that would have been waiting for him on a normal Accies press day. And at no point did it even look like appearing to faze him.
Since being parachuted into his managerial career, Neil has dealt with question marks.
He had been hurled head first into tasks where the only two options were sink without trace, or stand tall and prosper. And Neil has been open about his lack of insecurities – probably the best way to be, in such a volatile and fragile profession.
That was the biggest character Neil was able to exude in his brief press conference yesterday – after all, the flight to Bournemouth was on standby.
At times the step-up in environment, culture and – trying not to be disrespectful to those north of the border – class was a backdrop. Dealing with the characters now at Alex Neil’s disposal is going to be like nothing he has experienced in management before. That may also extend to him as a player.
However, that security in his own skin as he sat in his Norwich City training gear, talking eloquently about the last few days and the challenges that await, left you thinking that Neil is a man who knows how to stand tall and deal with a situation; certainly when the alternative is to sink without trace.
Neil made some interesting comments on Thursday before being confirmed in his new role: about wanting to be in control of transfers, wanting the job to be how he thought it should be. Otherwise he wouldn’t be making the move south.
Unsurprisingly, the question on that came up pretty quickly in Friday’s press conference. And given Neil had already set his stall out beforehand, he made a point of ensuring City chief executive David McNally put down on record how things were going to work.
Neil didn’t need to say it himself. He was already sitting comfortably in his new surrounds and employment company.
This weekend’s trip to Bournemouth in some ways does him no favours. He is the man in charge, but will have only shared the odd meeting with his players and is yet to join them on a training pitch.
At the same time, it will be the perfect test of the players’ initial reactions. This City squad, at Championship level, is perfectly capable of turning things on when it needs to and when it stands to gain maximum impact.
Given their sole interaction with the new gaffer so far has been purely verbal, Saturday is their first training session, attitude test and football impression – all to be played out in public, at the Championship leaders.
It promises to provide a wonderful chance for Neil to get his men onside and pass that first test of proving the Norwich City job is one he can make a success.
The proving ground won’t go anywhere after Dean Court. It hangs around. For Alex Neil, it’s likely to sit right on his toes for the foreseeable future. But what we can say now is while he’s only been known to most City supporters for three days, the reaction has been turning in his favour.
And with the way he began his public conversation with those who love Norwich City, his proving ground looks like being a challenge he cannot wait to stand up to and conquer.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey