We will always remember Wembley - but what's next for Norwich City?
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:17 13 March 2017
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When the dust has settled and this season is consigned to the history books, there will be a generation of Norwich City fans who will remember Alex Neil as the man who took us to Wembley.
The little-known Hamilton player-manager who came to Carrow Road and shook things up. Who led us to the famous arch by making sure Ipswich didn’t – and then conquered it too. His team on that magical day didn’t fear the occasion, they embraced it. Neil’s men won the richest game in world football on the most high-profile stage, and we loved the lot of them for it.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a memorable win at Old Trafford, it has been a downward spiral ever since. A relegation fight that petered out with a whimper, multi-million pound signings that failed to improve the team, and overseeing a side who have not only under-performed but have at times embarrassed themselves along the way in this fault-ridden campaign.
To say that the Norwich board of directors were generous in the time they afforded Neil is an understatement. How many other promotion-chasing clubs in the Football League would continue to employ a manager who’d won just three games in 14 league fixtures over a three-month period?
Just like the prolonged delay in relieving Chris Hughton of his duties, there were plenty of opportunities for them to have made this decision sooner. That it came on the eve of a match just hours after Neil had fronted up to the media in his weekly news conference was the latest instalment in what has become a shambolic season both on and off the pitch.
For many of us, the overwhelming feeling when the news was announced was relief. Relief that after poor performances, indifferent results and another revelatory player interview the board had finally called time on Neil’s reign. It’s a sad end to a relationship that seemed to promise so much just two years ago, but one that desperately needed to be curtailed for the sake of both parties.
Now the Neil era is over, what is next for Norwich City?
Ed Balls’ declaration that this is the start of a clearout at the club is an indication that the new manager will have free-rein to dismantle the squad that Neil has assembled. A much-needed revamp of the playing and now coaching staff that should arguably have been carried out last summer.
While the next appointment is crucial, so is this new football structure Balls said would be implemented. It simply must address failings in an area which has cost the club its Premier League status in two of the last three seasons: recruitment.
Chris Hughton ultimately paid the price for spending millions on a striker who scored one goal, and Neil’s marquee signing of Steven Naismith proved to have no impact whatsoever on the bid for survival. Just two examples that outline the need for a better scouting network when it comes to identifying targets.
A club the size of Norwich should have an academy that brings through first-team players on a far more regular basis. The breakthrough of the Murphy twins is a positive step in this regard, but they were here long before the club was awarded its Category One status and there is still much work to do when it comes to producing and nurturing young players.
Should City fail to win promotion again next season and transfer funds significantly dwindle, there will be a far greater need to depend upon our own resources to avoid shelling out fees to bring players in.
Alan Pardew, Gary Rowett, Simon Grayson – just three names that have been bandied around as possible replacements for Neil. While it is too late to do anything but write this season off, the remaining few weeks of the campaign will at least give the new man the chance to assess which players he believes are up for the challenge come August, assuming of course he is appointed quickly.