‘Miracle worker’ Alex Neil is a one-off, says Scottish football television expert
- Credit: Steve Welsh
Presenter David Tanner, part of Sky Sports' Scottish Professional Football League coverage, gives Gavin Caney his informed opinions on Alex Neil.
It's an unbelievable move. He's so young. He's the youngest manager in the league (Scottish Premiership) and he's still playing. Hamilton have got the smallest support in the league. If Alex went to a St Mirren or even a Hearts or a Hibs it would have been a surprise but to go to that league (English Championship) and a right good club like Norwich, well it's just incredible. I'm delighted for him because it's a life-changing move, it really is.
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The timing of the move is completely remarkable. I actually had to double check how old he was again when the news first broke. With Scottish football you kind of have to be ready for anything. The events at Rangers over the last few years have been incredible. Day-by-day you're almost left punch drunk by some of the things that happen. But even with all that said, this news stands out. It's sensational.
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Norwich fans will probably like Alex already as he's utterly humiliated an Ipswich legend in the shape of Terry Butcher in the relegation-promotion play-off. Hamilton with all those kids and the crowds in the hundreds lost the first leg of the play-offs 2-0 at home to Hibs. The guests in the studio that night were Neil McCann and Gary Cawldwell. They both said, 'You know what, the way this Hamilton side play they could go there and do Hibs in the second leg' and they did. They won 2-0 and then won on penalties. Hamilton had absolutely no right to beat that Hibs team. They've got a very expensive squad, it's a big, big club and Hamilton still managed to beat a Premiership side. It really was jaw-dropping stuff.
A REAL LEADER
Alex has tended to be on the sidelines more for the big games. But occasionally he put his boots on to help out the younger lads and lead by example. He used to coach for the youth team and he was such a steady head alongside people like James McCarthy and James McCarthur when they broke through to play in the first team. Alex didn't even really have that much higher-level experience himself but he was a real star in that midfield – even though you could tell both James' would go on to be something special.
THE BIG BROTHER
He's a modern manager, which isn't a surprise as he's a young man. He's been with that group of players at Accies for a long time. The players have been brought up by him, played with him and played for him. They're got a strong affinity with him. I was going to say he's like a father figure to them but he's not. He's more like a big brother. The big test now will be how will he deal with different players, on much bigger wages than at Hamilton, that he's not known since they were at school.
He's almost come from obscurity. His playing career blossomed in his late 20s and he's moved into coaching where he looked after the young players every day. His managerial career has just exploded into life. It's amazing. He's a unique character and his rapid rise is something like you'd see in a movie script. Alex is quiet and quite reserved. But he's adored by the people who run Hamilton. He's something of a one-off and he's certainly got the respect of his players. He's been a miracle worker at Hamilton Academical. You knew somebody would come knocking on their door. But Hamilton is a tight club and he was very much part of the fabric. For him to leave it was going to take something special and this is.
As for Alex's physique – there's nothing to him, there's not an ounce of fat on him. Fitness is clearly a priority as his players are in great shape too. They play fast. They play furious. They play energetic. They can run their legs off. Anyone carrying a few pounds at Norwich won't be carrying them for much longer I can assure you of that.
DOWN TO EARTH
He's polite, sensible and unsensational. He doesn't say many crazy things. He might not provide good copy as such for journalists but it'll be sensible copy that supporters and the club will want to hear. His dealings with the press at Hamilton were fairly limited. The club is 10 minutes from Glasgow and the Old Firm media goldfish bowl. He's never shied away from the spotlight but he's never gone searching for it. That might change at Norwich and he might open up a bit more. But he's just a humble and quiet man who gets on with his job.
Hamilton won at Celtic Park for the first time in 76 years earlier this season. Was it a freak result? Well at the start of January the Accies were level on points with Celtic. People will be talking about that for 50 years. It's astonishing. When Hamilton were last relegated from the top flight they had got 26 points. They've already got 39 this season. That's a third more already. He's done an amazing job.
Sky Sports is the home of Scottish international football with both friendly matches and Euro 2016 qualifiers, as well as live SPFL and Scottish Cup games.