Have Norwich City finally found their Paul Lambert replacement in Alex Neil?
06:30 08 January 2015
PA Wire/Press Association Images
With Alex Neil set to become the new Norwich City manager David Freezer assesses whether the Canaries have finally found the man to turn around the club’s fortunes.
Name: Alexander Francis Neil
Born: Bellshill, Scotland
Playing career: Midfielder for Airdrieonians, Barnsley, Mansfield and Hamilton
Managerial career: Player/manager at Hamilton since March 2013
Managerial record: P70 W37 D15 L18 (52.9pc win percentage)
Trivia: Led Hamilton to first win away at Celtic in 76 years with 1-0 win in October
When Norwich City chief executive David McNally began his succession planning, he will have been very aware that he needed to repeat his success of 2009.
The Canaries chief gained his reputation for being a ruthless operator in August of that year when he sacked Bryan Gunn after just two games in charge and hired Paul Lambert.
Since Lambert ditched City for Aston Villa, Chris Hughton and Neil Adams have both failed to reproduce the swashbuckling success which saw the club rise from League One to the Premier League.
Has McNally now found a man in a similar mould to Lambert in Hamilton Academical boss Alex Neil though?
At just 33 years of age and still registered as a player, it came as a shock when the Scottish Premiership club revealed that Neil was in talks with City yesterday.
But the news was so unexpected that it is clear that McNally must already have done his homework on the former Barnsley and Mansfield midfielder – otherwise the gamble would surely be too big.
And perhaps it is those similarities to Lambert that have persuaded McNally and the City board they have found a man who can get their promotion hopes back on track.
Speaking to the Daily Mail in September, Neil said: “I’m a very secure person. I have very few insecurities in terms of confidence, speaking to a group and putting my message across.
“I don’t mind demanding the most out of them or booting someone up the backside if I feel they aren’t pulling their weight.”
The certainty and ambition in those words suggest Neil is not a man who is going to be overawed by the pressure at Carrow Road.
He took over at Hamilton in March 2013 and then guided the Accies to second place in the Scottish Championship.
That meant missing out on automatic promotion but Neil then guided his side to a 2-1 aggregate win over Falkirk in the First Division play-off, before beating Hibs on penalties after two legs of a promotion play-off against the top-flight club.
That experience of play-off victory may just come in handy again if Neil does pick up the reins at Carrow Road.
The other big question yet to be answered is what will happen to Mike Phelan if Neil is appointed today?
If he remains as first-team coach, as expected, then perhaps Phelan will feel little has changed. The former Manchester United manager was brought in to work alongside an inexperienced manager.
Although Neil has more experience than the man he may replace, the guidance from a man of Phelan’s experience and knowledge would surely still be a huge asset for the Canaries as they try to reignite their promotion push.
As a tough-tackling midfielder who is already shining as a manager at a young age, Neil certainly seems to have plenty of bite to go with his bark. Is he tough enough to follow in Lambert’s footsteps? If so, then McNally could be about to repeat his trick of 2009.