Alex Neil earned our respect, says Sebastien Bassong of Premier League new-boys Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The softer side of disciplinarian Alex Neil helped instill a greater fighting spirit inside Norwich City's dressing room.
The 33-year-old's reputation as a hard taskmaster has been credited as the reason the Canaries have soared straight back to the dizzying heights of the Premier League. Yet defender Sebastien Bassong admits the Scot has had to show more than just tough love to convince the Canaries' players he could guide them out of the Championship at the first time of asking.
The 28-year-old said: 'You can't take any liberties with him. He came here and put some standards back in place. It was like; 'These are the boundaries, if you respect the rules, we'll do it'.
'He had to earn respect. He's a young manager, let's not forget. When you're a young manager, and you've got players that are almost the same age as you, it's harder to get that respect from them. If you mess around with them or you're too soft maybe you will lose a player.
'You have to be a bit strict. But he's never been over the top. He's always been fair. If you don't play well or make a mistake he's going to warn you and tell you why he's given you stick. That's fair and no one can complain about what the boss is saying or does. I think that's how he earned the respect from us.
'Alex is just special. He's got a huge, huge heart. He's a really nice guy – even if, like you might say, he is fierce. He comes and gives you everything. So in return you're going to give him everything you've got back. As long as you're giving him everything he's going to be happy and back you up.'
Neil's mesmerising start to life in English football – which began in January when he replaced Neil Adams at Carrow Road – enjoyed its crowning moment on Monday. The former Hamilton Academical chief secured his own back-to-back promotions as a manager by guiding Norwich to a 2-0 play-off final victory over Middlesbrough at Wembley.
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Some doubters are already suggesting the top-flight will be a step too far for the rookie boss. But Bassong is certain the man who saved his City career can flourish on the big stage if he remains true to the principles which have helped him flourish so far in Norfolk.
'The Premier League requires something different from the Championship,' added the 28-year-old.
'But as a manager he's not going to change his ways. As long as he stays the same, and gets maybe even more demanding, I think we'll do good. Alex Neil is his own man. Even if he is told what to do he won't be having it. He knows what he wants to do, he came here to do his job, and he's done it. The board knew that when they signed him.
'He was the kind of manager that we really needed to get us going to get promoted. It was the perfect fit. Now it's all about next season.
'Knowing the gaffer I expect the summer will be intense. If pre-season is like how he looks (getting in great shape), then jeez, ha, we're going to die!'