Alex Neil relishes leading from the front at Norwich City
Alex Neil wasted little time stamping his mark on Norwich City’s squad. Here he tells PADDY DAVITT what he expects from a group of players he aims to mould into a Championship force.
"I’ve told the players what our aims are for the rest of the season and you hope they buy into it. If they don’t there are going to be problems."
Alex Neil will only have a problem with his Norwich City players if they fall below his exacting standards.
The newly-appointed Canaries’ boss can still measure his tenure in hours rather than matches, but the squad he inherited has been left in no doubt they either buy into the Scot’s philosophy or fall by the wayside.
Neil aims to be their biggest champion and greatest critic to extract the maximum from plentiful resources at Carrow Road.
“I would like to think man-management is one of my strengths,” he says. “The one thing people quickly learn about me is I am completely honest and open with everyone and as a player that is all you want. If somebody tells you exactly where you are and how they see it, then there can be no room for error, no arguments to be had.
“I have already described that to the squad. I have told them I will be honest with them in how I see things. Now, we might not always agree but the bottom line is they have to be respectful of my view.
“I’m not saying I will be going out with them for a drink, I won’t be their best mate, but I have their best interests at heart as well as the club. I want to make sure they are okay and if I can help them in anyway then I will do. The Norwich City players have been told that already, but I will put certain demands on them to do their job because if they don’t then its difficult for me to do mine.”
Neil bats away accusations a 33-year-old who had operated in Scottish football guiding Hamilton from the Championship to the upper echelons of an SPL missing Rangers, Hibs and Hearts will struggle to exert his authority over a Norwich dressing room crammed with international players.
The former Accies’ chief exudes self-confidence but that disguises a streetwise edge fashioned in the less glamorous surroundings of a playing career that took in spells at Barnsley and Mansfield before he returned north to his spiritual home.
Neil has already embraced the expectation and the pressure that comes with replacing Neil Adams. He knows he is expected to deliver.
“They are people at the end of the day. If you speak to them with respect and honesty and let them know up front where you are coming from then generally you get that back,” he says. “Every player at any level in this game has aspirations. That will always be the case so I never gave that any thought.
“I’ve told the players what our aims are for the rest of the season and you hope they buy into it. If they don’t there are going to be problems.
“I think, longer term, that process is always going to be better for a manager because it gives you more time to work with players, to bed things in and make sure they all know their jobs.
The bottom line, however, is managers nowadays don’t have the longer term. It is about the here and now and what is going to happen between now and the end of the season. That will dictate a lot for myself and Norwich. I am fully aware of that and it’s why I am trying to get things bedded in and, to give them their due, the squad have bought into it as much as they can.”
Neil talks in measured tones but the passion is never far from the surface. The inevitable focus on his relatively tender age is turned into a huge positive by the man himself after becoming the second-youngest manager in the Football League.
“I think one of the benefits for me with the age-thing is that I can relate to the players,” he says. “I can relate to how they are feeling, relate to how they are spoken to by a manager, how it feels when they are being told they have been left out, because I have been there myself as a player.
“That is certainly an advantage I do have in dealing with the players and sometimes that allows me to speak to them on their level, and a lot of the time like I said earlier players are receptive to that.
“I’m young for a manager. There is no getting away from that but I have been a professional football player since I was 16, so in terms of the dynamics of football and how a changing room works I am used to that since I have been a lad. I have been coaching for five years.
“I was still playing when I left (Hamilton) last week. Really when they first came to me two years ago that is where my focus was. They asked me to take on the manager’s role at the time, they said they felt I was the right person and they respected me and wanted me to do it and looking back I am really, really pleased I did now because it has benefited me.”