Alex Neil was a hero. Similar to Paul Lambert two managers before him he marched into Colney, lifted the entire club onto his shoulders and marched us into the Premier League. He was an inspired choice and did exactly what was asked of him in getting us promoted.
Stephen Curnow suggests that having done the job he was brought in to do, that was the time to let him go and rather than look to create a Wenger-style dynasty, City should have sought out a relegation battle specialist.
Friday night’s defeat against Huddersfield Town indelibly wrote on the wall of Alex Neil’s reign as Norwich City’s Manager.
Even the most optimistic of supporters would have to accept it is extraordinarily unlikely that Neil will salvage any sustained employment from here. The only task that remains is to establish precisely when things have got bad enough for him to be shown the door.
The way football management works at the moment is basically that the incumbent is entitled to remain within his position until he either moves on to a better job or starts making a pig’s ear of his current one. In many cases, Alex Neil being one of them, a manager achieves some success and then is allowed to hang around long enough to undo all the good work he has done.
So do we have to change the way we look at the employment of football managers altogether?
Perhaps specific managers should be employed for specific tasks? A Warnock for a gritty promotion, an Allardyce to escape a relegation. When the task is complete, they go, even if they’ve just completed their task successfully. The idea isn’t quite as barmy as it sounds. You only have to stroll through any Aviva office and you will find countless trouble-shooters and project managers, tasked with completing a specific piece of work and sent on their way to the next with a decent bonus in their pocket when they have done so. Who is to say that football managers couldn’t be employed in the same fashion?
Managers themselves seem to have got the hang of the idea. Many have seemed to make an art form out of manging to move onward and upward before their luck runs out. But only the managers are allowed an exit strategy it seems and the idea of releasing a manager who is actually doing a good job sits uncomfortably with us fair-minded football folk.
This is perhaps where our perception of their role needs to change. In giving a fella a pat on the back, a hefty bonus in his pocket, the kudos of a job well done and the opportunity to get out and do the same elsewhere rather than loiter around and bugger things up again could actually constitute doing the decent thing.
Perhaps the only club to have started to think in these terms is Watford. Under their recent ownership of the Pozzo Family, they employed Slavisa Jokanovic to get them promoted, Quique Sanchez Flores to consolidate in the Premier League and now Walter Mazzarri to push them on into the upper echelons. However, the flavour of dispensing with Jokanovic and Flores after successful seasons was unpalatable to many in football, but every party concerned seems to have done well out of it.
Jokanovic has been given the chance to repeat the trick at Fulham, Flores has enhanced his credentials enough to find employment in La Liga, and Watford themselves are knocking on the door of the top 10, smugly looking down on clubs like us who let a man continue steering the ship into waters he was not qualified to navigate.
It is interesting that Watford are run by a family of hard-nosed businessmen, seemingly devoid of sentimental attachment to their football club that encumbers almost all of the well-meaning local softies on our board.
Our own recent history has been something of a mixed bag when it comes to getting the right manager at the right time. Paul Lambert was undoubtedly an ideal choice to rejuvenate our ailing selves in 2009. Being a manager of such relentless positivity, he managed to create a big enough wave for us to ride all the way from the foot of League 1 to the middle of the Premier League.
Once the Lambert all-night bender was over, we needed someone sensible to drive us home and help pick up some of the cans.
Chris Hughton was certainly an ideal choice in that respect, bringing a stoic pragmatism to our play, just when we were starting to look like we were being found out anyway. It is often forgotten that Hughton initially took us even further, to a sober but commendable 11th place finish in his first season. However, in the summer of 2013, emboldened by Premier League riches, we morphed into a different beast.
What was clearly not Hughton’s forte was spending the big bucks which might have taken us to the next level. He put £8.5 million worth of eggs in Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s basket and got a lame duck to show for it. He never really recovered from this shocker, and as a result he retreated further and further into a defensive shell that bordered on the paranoid. Hughton was fired with our fate of relegation pretty much sealed. Ironically, his success with Brighton and Hove Albion since suggests he would have been well-qualified to re-fortify us in the Championship the following year.
Again, being led by the emotion and fairness of the situation, Hughton certainly deserved to lose his job by then, rather than focussing on the task at hand, we did ourselves out of a good candidate for the job. Quite what scenario Neil Adams would have been suited for is anyone’s guess, but the chalice had been pretty well poisoned by then.
Sadly for Neil, re-analysing our current situation still doesn’t make him look like the man for the job. Of course he has rejuvenated us before, but he is now part of the disease rather than the cure. If we can scour Europe again and find a messiah out there who can revitalise our season before it’s too late then great. But let’s suggest he focuses on getting one job done properly, maybe only the one.