Alex Neil has shown he’s made of stern stuff since his Norwich City sacking
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Alex Neil handled his Norwich City departure with dignity and most City fans wouldn't begrudge him success at Preston
'It was never going to be a nice thing to do and never be a good time.'
This was how then Norwich City chairman Ed Balls justified the sacking of Alex Neil in March 2017.
Just a few hours earlier Neil had faced the press to lay out his vision to take the Canaries back to the Premier League after an underwhelming season in the Championship following relegation.
For a club that prides itself in doing things the right way, it wasn't very Norwich City.
Neil had lost the majority of City fans by this point and it has shown to be the correct decision as the club installed a new management structure that is now bearing fruit.
Neil had every right to feel a hint of bitterness towards City for the way his departure was handled but in every dealing with the media since he has had nothing but good things to say about Norwich… a bit different to another former Scottish manager City came up against recently.( But we had better not bring up who has, and hasn't, got 'class' – the FA can make that ruling after Sunday's derby.)
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'I wouldn't say I was harshly treated,' Neil said shortly after his dismissal. 'When you don't win games, your position is going to come under question. Looking at the squad, were we good enough to get ourselves up? Yeah, I would say we were.
'(Major shareholder) Delia (Smith) wasn't the one who told me I was no longer required. I spoke to Ed Balls and Steve Stone, and I requested to go and speak to Delia in the boardroom upstairs, and I thanked her for everything she'd done and the opportunity, because it was a gamble.
'I've got no ill feelings towards anybody. I had plans to take it forward and my only frustration is that I've not had the opportunity to see that through.'
Neil was good for Norwich City and it worked both ways. He knows that he was plucked from relative obscurity at Hamilton and they gave him a platform to launch what must still be regarded as a promising managerial career.
MORE: Preston North End v Norwich City previewNeil had the kind of self-assurance necessary for any 33-year-old manager to come into a senior dressing room and get them all rowing in the same direction as he did on a journey that culminated in a glorious day at Wembley.
Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for Neil and City. Expensive mistakes were made in the transfer market – mistakes that are still being felt now – and by his own admission Neil relied too much on a group of players that had done the business for him in the past.
The squad needed to be evolved following Premier League relegation in 2016 and they weren't up to it.
'We had a lot of players at the club for longer than five years, and we needed to start afresh,' Neil said in an interview shortly after his dismissal.
'Thirteen of the 24 players in the first-team squad were over 30, and when we went up the last time they were 28, which is significantly different, it's when you're at your peak.
'We needed to re-build and the one thing I blame myself for is that I re-signed all the players to get us back up because they'd done it in the past. I should have taken more time and looked to alter the squad at that stage.'
Most City fans will always be grateful to Neil for giving them one of the greatest days in the club's history and wouldn't begrudge him success at Preston.
But his time at Deepdale looked to be following a similar theme to his City era. An impressive first season saw him take them to within a whisker of the play-offs but there were calls for his head from some fans earlier this campaign when they took just five points from their opening 10 games.
But after losing just four of their last 20 games relegation fears have been eased and Neil has shown that he is capable of turning round a bad spell and coming through the other side.
Still only 37 there is time for Neil to fulfil all that promise he showed at City initially… let's just hope it can continue after Wednesday.