Alex Neil the player – by former Barnsley team-mate Paul Gibbs
- Credit: PA
Paul Gibbs describes himself as 'a jovial type of guy' so it was a case of chalk and cheese when he walked into the Barnsley dressing room in 2002 and met Alex Neil, who he jokingly referred to as a miserable old git. The pair eventually hit it off – and Norfolk-born Gibbs is a big admirer of the City manager's ethics.
It didn't take long for Paul Gibbs to realise that Alex Neil would be a difficult nut to crack in the Barnsley dressing room.
Five years had passed since the Tykes' flirtation with Premier League glory and in 2002-03 the home dressing room wasn't a great place to be ahead of a campaign in the third tier following relegation.
'We didn't get on,' was Gibbs' first summation, although as the season progressed, things did begin to change.
'I joined from Brentford, who had been around the top of the league below. They were on a tough run and there were players who didn't want to be there. They had come down and they wanted to get released.
'I am quite a jovial type of guy with a bit of banter and I walked into a changing room where everyone's heads are on the floor... and I come in bouncing around.
'When you walk into a dressing room you know instantly the ones you are going to struggle with, you know the ones that you will get on with.'
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It was clear that Alex Neil was going to be little more than a team-mate for Gibbs, well-known locally as the player who scored the winning goal from the penalty spot in the 1994 FA Vase Final at Wembley.
'I used to call him a miserable git,' added Gibbs, 44. 'He always used to say, 'Gibbo – what is wrong with you?' because I was so cheerful.
'We didn't say a lot to start with, but towards the end we got to grips with each other and we actually ended up having a really good relationship with each other - that was just before I left, which was a shame.'
As a player, then?
'Reliable - I enjoyed playing with him. If you weren't putting 100pc in he would let you know. He would be the first person to pull you out at half-time or after a game and he was very vocal, after a game especially. You know when players are not trying, when they don't want the ball, when they are too scared of it, and Alex was very quick to pull those players out, very quick, and rightly so.'
It was his playing attributes that Gibbs believes will stand him in good stead in management.
'I think he has probably learned a lot and has more strings to his bow now,' he said. 'If you are just lambasting players I don't think you will get the best out of them. He has learned man management along the way.
'To be a football manager you have to have very, very thick skin and Alex has got that, and you have to be very determined and single-minded, and he is that.
'It is not just the manager – when they cross the white line it is down to the players to put it in and if they are not, you look at them and say, 'you, you, you' are not trying' – and Alex is strong enough to tell them that. I think that is his strength and if he is given the time he will do a very good job - and I think he has done a very good job since he has been in there. He is still an inexperienced manager – Norwich has been a really good place for him to develop and if they give him time he will get them back because they are a fantastic team.'