Wisecracks and humour all part of Alex Neil’s Norwich City Wembley build-up

Norwich City manager Alex Neil was in relaxed mood at Colney on Friday afternoon. Picture: Antony Ke

Norwich City manager Alex Neil was in relaxed mood at Colney on Friday afternoon. Picture: Antony Kelly - Credit: Archant

Alex Neil's body language conveyed no trace of any stress as the countdown to the biggest moment in his managerial career enters the final phase.

The Norwich City boss turned in an impressively assured display on Friday in the last of numerous engagements in front of the media at the club's Colney training base

Neil's next public engagement will be leading his side out on the Wembley turf ahead of a defining day in the life of the 33-year-old and the club he has rapidly moulded in his own image.

The Scot began this season guiding Hamilton to a Scottish League Cup win against Arbroath in front of little more than 700 fans at New Douglas Park. He finishes in front of 88,000 at the home of football on Bank Holiday Monday, but such a stratospheric rise does not faze Neil.

'I have been reminded a lot this week I started the season at Arbroath. That is fine, that is where I was. That game meant a lot to us and we wanted to win it, and we did,' he said. 'There is no question I have improved as a manager and I will continue to improve. I am 33 and in my eyes I will only get better because I have the real desire to get better and learn and look at different ways of doing things.

'The way I go about it and the detail is different, but not the process; that is the same whether it was Arbroath or now Middlesbrough at Wembley. I will still do the same things with my players.

'The background detail is obviously different because this is a one-off match. In a league game you can make the points up further down the line. It doesn't matter who I am playing. If I haven't prepared my team then I haven't done my job, but I know there is a lot more at stake in this final game.'

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Neil appears a man at ease in the searing focus that accompanies the richest match in football.

The best of a series of one-liners in a polished performance yesterday came in response to Alex Tettey and Martin Olsson's pre-match assertion City may have already reached the Premier League if the Scot had been in situ from the outset of the campaign.

'They are saying that because they want to start on Monday,' he said, a quip which triggered much amusement. 'It is easy to say those things in hindsight. I have created a good relationship with the players and that only happens if you win games. They then enjoy their football and we both get the credit, but it takes everybody to get there - whether it is my doing well or them as an individual. It is a package and we have performed in most of the games.'

Neil knows victory over the Teessiders and a crack at the Premier League would complete a remarkable personal story.

'These are the type of games you want to be involved in as a player, coach or manager,' he said. 'It has been pointed out to me numerous times I have gone from the Championship in Scotland to Wembley in 12 months but it has been a great journey and I have enjoyed it.

'I believe I deserve to be there, the same as the team. I am embracing this occasion.'