Alex Neil will not rest until he has finished the job at Norwich City

Norwich City manager Alex Neil has hit the ground running at Carrow Road. Picture: James Bass

Norwich City manager Alex Neil has hit the ground running at Carrow Road. Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

Alex Neil's appointment as Norwich City manager was portrayed by many as a gamble. PADDY DAVITT argues City's board have backed a winner.

Alex Neil has a 67% win ratio since taking over at Norwich City in January. Picture: James Bass

Alex Neil has a 67% win ratio since taking over at Norwich City in January. Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

Alex Neil's personal drive is propelling Norwich City forward at hurtling speed. The Canaries have been transformed from a hesitant play-off contender to a title-challenging force under the Scot, but there is a restlessness to Neil's demeanour that suggests he will derive little satisfaction from a positive start to his Carrow Road career until Norwich return to the Premier League.

Beneath the outward persona of control is a cerebral thinker who dissects every aspect of his craft.

'I never think about the past. It is done, you just move on and continue to get better. I have to improve as well as the players,' he says.

'There are things I have done in the past in my managerial career that I wouldn't do again. So far I have managed to call most things right, not just at Norwich but Hamilton; but there'll be changes I make at times, like playing Steven Whittaker (in midfield) against Brentford, that cost us the game and I will carry the can for that.

Norwich manager Alex Neil is not expecting Sheffield Wednesday to roll over. Picture by Paul Chester

Norwich manager Alex Neil is not expecting Sheffield Wednesday to roll over. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

'It is not just as simple as managing people, because if you do that but know nothing about football then you are no use. The biggest thing I can say about me is I don't simply look at individuals. A coach will coach one player. My strength is coaching a group, a team. I don't want them to function as an individual but within that group.

'As a player myself the best way to describe me was that I was influential. I might not be the best player but I would have an impact on those around me, I would get them organised, and tell them what their jobs were. That led me into coaching and management.

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'I can convey the message I want to them and make them understand it in their terms, because I was one of them up until a few months ago. I know how their brains work and how they process information and that is important.'

Neil's move south in January came with many imponderables attached. The myth about his age and lack of experience have been emphatically answered in City's consistent surge, so too his ability to handle an inheritance radically different from plucky Hamilton's rise against-the-odds.

'There was a lot made perhaps about managing higher profile players earning a lot more money,' he says. 'I never discuss money. Never. It's not about money. If you are a proper player and you walk out onto that pitch you do not think about money. Fans maybe tend to do it, and I probably did when I was up the road earning less money. It's about competing and doing as well as you can because regardless of what anybody says you would not be at this level if you were happy to get beat or didn't have that competitive edge. It is just about generating that team spirit and getting them fighting for each other and having a personal pride; not accepting getting beat or being second best.

'In life generally, not just football, people will say things and don't back it up. I will always tell the players why they are not involved, what they need to do be involved and if you have that as a player you want that clarity. For me that is normal; being honest with people. Ultimately our goal is to get promoted so it is not a case of upsetting people. That is only counter-productive because if you are not honest with people then they will get frustrated and don't know how to change things. If you are clear with them there are no comebacks.'

Neil's leadership qualities first emerged at Hamilton, where he replaced Billy Reid in 2013, after a playing career that took in the less salubrious surroundings of Barnsley and Mansfield.

'It was Hamilton who changed me in that respect,' he says. 'At Barnsley as a player I was just trying to find my best position in midfield. I was floating about midfield and not hitting the heights I felt I was capable of, but when I went to Hamilton they made me captain shortly after, and I then had (James) McArthur and (James) McCarthy in front of me and my task was to make them better. That led me down the line of where I am now. Hamilton was a big catalyst for change.

'Billy Reid was a huge influence for me as a player but to be honest I try to do my own thing as a manager. I am a big believer if I do it my way then it falls back on me and me only, it is my responsibility and no-one else. If you know the game it isn't that difficult. It is about delivering clear messages to players, black and white, no grey areas.'

Norwich is not simply the latest stop on Neil's grand life plan, but the 33-year-old has mapped out a clear vision of where he wants to take Norwich over these next few months and beyond.

'I wouldn't say I plan my life, but I know what I want,' he says. 'I don't think you can plan because life is so unpredictable, especially in football. I think as a club I make plans in terms of how I see them developing and the road I want to go down. I wouldn't necessarily say I plan that for my own life. I have my young family and I just try to live my life.

'In terms of my professional life the first port of call is to win as many games as we can and try to win promotion. End of story. Looking forward to next season I have plans how I want the team to develop in terms of personnel and how we function. If you haven't got that you might get success immediately but it won't last because the foundations are not in place.'

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