Fear and respect. The essence of successful man-management

Norwich City manager Alex Neil has presided over seven defeats in nine league games. Picture by Paul

Norwich City manager Alex Neil has presided over seven defeats in nine league games. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

We live in a world defined by popularity contests. Jungles, ballrooms, talent searches.

Sir Alex Ferguson built a dynasty at Manchester United. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Sir Alex Ferguson built a dynasty at Manchester United. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Why should football be any different, with the explosion in social media giving any individual a platform to broadcast their views to a wider audience.

But I venture if you asked any football fan to set aside tribal allegiance and name the best manager in the past 20 years one name would emerge above all others.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Glaswegian fire-breather is a managerial titan in any era. His list of achievements is scarcely a fitting tribute to his longevity and the revolution he engineered at Manchester United.

Former French international Mikaël Silvestre offered a fascinating insight in the genius of Ferguson in a national radio interview earlier this week. Silvestre arrived at the Theatre of Dreams as a 22-year-old prospect and left Old Trafford with five Premier League titles, one FA Cup and the Champions League in a stellar nine-year spell. Silvestre will have seen Ferguson at his best and his worst in the closeted confines of the dressing room, on the training pitch and barking orders in his technical area - when he paused for a moment to stop berating officials.


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The 39-year-old distilled Ferguson's magic into a simple cocktail. Success was based on managing a squad of huge egos matching their soaring talent - 50pc through fear, 50pc through players wanting to please him and earn his respect.

In essence, whoever was in Ferguson's camp never got too comfortable, never felt their position was secure, never rested on their laurels. If they did, they were sold. Look at the list who exited United - Mark Hughes, Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis, David Beckham, Jaap Staam, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane. Massive personalities who departed when Ferguson decided it was time to go.

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You know where I am going with this. Look at the Carrow Road parallels under his compatriot, Alex Neil, who Ferguson took time out to impart some pearls of wisdom after the former Hamilton boss guided Norwich to Championship play-off success at Wembley.

When the young Scot jettisoned player-of-the-year, talisman, leader, Bradley Johnson in the final hours of that same summer 2015 transfer window there was palpable shock waves triggered amongst the Canaries' support.

Neil had decided the finances made sense and Johnson's impact in the Premier League would be limited. Whether you agreed or not it was bold, it was brave and it sent a clear signal to the rest of his players if Johnson was expendable then so were the rest. The passage of time and the declining fortunes of the Canaries may cast a harsh light on that particular business decision. Johnson's recent match-winner for Derby County was another of those low blows Neil has reeled from in a run which leaves him increasingly vulnerable.

But the divorce was on his terms and Neil's authority was final. Now he has to fend off endless lines of enquiry about losing dressing rooms, player fall-outs and conspiracy theories, largely centred around Timm Klose.

City were unable to shift lads out of the door last summer - in sharp contrast to when Neil was applying a well-aimed boot in the direction of their backside 12 months earlier. That perhaps is more a reflection on Norwich's straightened circumstances, following relegation, but it all flows into a gnawing sense the Canaries' boss no longer commands the same healthy mix of fear and a thirst for his seal of approval from those he leads.

Neil is managing in a different era to Ferguson but the same principles should apply. Once that vital bond is irreparably broken between manager and players it is impossible to repair.

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