Howe about that! Norwich City hero Alex Neil ranked top boss, according to LMA data
- Credit: Archant
Alex Neil has won many plaudits, and matches, since his arrival at Carrow Road in January. Reporter GAVIN CANEY looks at how his record compares to other bosses, with some help from the LMA.
The comparisons between mouth-watering managerial talents Eddie Howe and Alex Neil are almost impossible to avoid.
They're young, hungry, impressive speakers and not short of admirers inside and outside of their respective clubs. That praise has been well earned though through incredible success stories that have now culminated in the pair guiding Bournemouth and Norwich City to promotion.
The bright lights of the Premier League await for the duo – ranked among the brightest bosses that Britain has to offer. But it's not just Howe, 37, who arrives in the top flight basking in the glory of out-gunning his fellow professionals.
While the Cherries' title-winning prized asset was crowned League Managers' Association (LMA) manager of the year – and the winner of the second tier's respective honour – he has been pipped to another illustrious gong by his former Championship counterpart.
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Neil, just 34, has taken the English scene by storm following his surprise January arrival from Hamilton. And it's that massive impact which has allowed him to succeed in a competition devised to allow managers from all four professional divisions to measure their achievements against each other.
While he may have only technically taken charge of 24 fixtures (the LMA do not include Neil's first match against Bournemouth because he started the game in the stands in a 'non-managerial role') his individual LMA managers' performance table, sponsored by Castrol, score is better than the best the English game has to offer – including Jose Mourinho.
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Although many may scoff at suggestions that the Canaries' very own 'Special One' is better at his job than Howe, let alone Chelsea's proven European touchline genius, Howard Wilkinson feels the Scot possesses the characteristics to become a great in his own right.
The LMA chairman said: 'There are lots of very young, very hard working, very dedicated and very well educated young coaches out there. The problem is not their talent, it's the opportunities.
'In this case, someone (at Norwich) has been shrewd enough to see through all the cliches about youth, needing time to adapt, and fortunately recognised Alex's potential. Let's face it, he wasn't travelling down to England from another planet. He was managing in Scotland and there's plenty that have done well when moving south.
'Football is fairly universal as it is for any student of the game. Two managers I respect greatly up in Scotland paid tribute to Alex's dedication to becoming better. His preparation, his strong menatality, his ability to see into the future if you like, and understand what sort of decisions he needs to make for the greater good.
'They said he's always looking for fresh ideas, inside and outside of football, and these are traits that are common with the most successful managers about.'
Those attributes are unlikely to see Neil finish above Manuel Pellegrini and Louis van Gaal again in a more important table next season. But if he performs like he has already in Norfolk, the honours and plaudits will just keep stacking up for the latest Scot to enjoy glory south of the border.
Wilkinson insists praise must not be forgotten
Alex Neil's impressive stock will no doubt rise if, as the youngest manager in the top flight, the Canaries maintain their status among the heavyweights next season.
Garry Monk, 36, was bestowed with that age-based honour last term and proved that a lack of experience did little to hold him back, with Swansea finishing eighth – and collecting their highest-ever points tally. Yet if Norwich do far worse and are even relegated, Wilkinson hopes a sense of perspective is brought into assessing how City's main man, 34, fares alongside Arsene Wenger and company.
'Look at Sean Dyche,' said Wilkinson, who was the last manager to win the biggest league prize in English football with Leeds United before the introduction of the Premier League in 1992/93.
'He's a good young manager (aged 43) who not only likes to challenge his players but he likes to challenge himself. These young students of the game want to do more than just educate and improve their players. Alex Neil has done so well to get straight out of the Championship because it's been a graveyard for some managers, the turnover has been ridiculous.
'Sean will have another fight now to get out of it but just because he's been relegated doesn't mean he can be marked down as a failure. He got just as much, if not more, out of Burnley than any other manager could have last season.
'I believe everybody should get a fair crack at managing in the top leagues but unfortunately they rarely do. A first impression is quite easy to make if you think about it but it's what you do for the next two, three, four and five months that matters. That's why Alex is being eulogised about.
'Those words are what people should remember when Norwich have a tricky spell next season, because they're going to have one. When that happens, they need to think back to what they were saying about Alex Neil a few months earlier as he'll still be the same man with the same qualities he had then.'