By Andrew Lawn
Gary Neville was asked the other week what he had learnt from his 6 months in charge of Valencia.
His response, once Jamie Carragher had stopped sniggering and gleefully made himself comfortable, propping his feet up on the desk in front of him and lighting an imaginary cigar, was surprising. At least to me.
Neville left unmentioned how to deal with the threat of Messi, Suarez and Neymar one week and Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema the next, the constant pressure to win, the language barrier or even getting players to perform to their maximum. Instead he said;
“You learn a lot about decision making. The responsibility that there seems to be a problem every day. It appears from somewhere, an injury, or a problem with a player, or something in the crowd, whatever it might be. I learned a lot about being a Head Coach. I’ve been a coach for 3 years with England so I knew some of the decision making process, but being a Head Coach is different”.
The point is this. Lots of us would do an OK job on a Saturday.
A fair proportion, although it often doesn’t sound like it, can understand the game in front of them and see what is working and what isn’t. I would harbour that comfortably over 50% of you reading this could see why Alex Neil brought Mulumbu on for Jerome, as Sheffield Wednesday had us pinned back at 0-0 in the opening game.
Whether or not you would have done the same thing in his position is a moot point; you saw the problem and you understood the solution. You will also have recognised in hindsight that it was the right decision. As Paul Lambert constantly used to say; “If you can’t win the game, make sure you don’t lose it”.
It’s a job I would love to do.
It’s a job I have done many times before, in my pants, on Football Manager.
But it’s not a job I could do.
I could not deal with the rest of that shit. I couldn’t put up with Martin Olsson being consistently late to everything. I couldn’t deal with Kyle Lafferty marching into my office, clutching his latest betting slip, to ask why 0 top-flight goals should earn him a start. I couldn’t deal with pronouncing Tony Andreu’s name or remembering what he looks like. I certainly couldn’t deal with people who don’t have any inside knowledge of either club finances or the transfer market questioning why we don’t chuck another million in and get a deal done.
In short, I couldn’t do Alex Neil’s job.
Following our distinctly underwhelming 3-0 defeat at Birmingham on Saturday, Alex Neil and the decisions he has made have come under increased scrutiny.
Predictably his decision to start with Naismith up front instead of the aforementioned Mr Kyle, caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth, which seemed to stem from a belief that it was better to have someone who is arbitrarily labelled as a striker up front, than a man with a much better goalscoring record.
Being spanked 3-0 did Neil’s cause no good of course, but the reasoning behind the decision is still clear; we went to Blackburn, played expansive one-touch football and ripped them apart. Same again please.
In hindsight that didn’t work of course, but as Alex Neil himself pointed out after the game, bringing Kyle on didn’t help either.
The point of all this is that Alex Neil makes mistakes and he has been the first to admit that in the past. But Alex Neil also learns from his mistakes. Stubborn or thoughtless are not labels you can apply to someone who has shown himself to be a man who analyses everything before making reasoned and reasonable decisions.
Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but as time goes on experience will allow him to make the right decision more often than not.
Not only that, but as Gary Neville’s remarks alluded to, there is much more to being a manager than just writing down your XI best players names and telling them to do their best.
Not only is Alex Neil making thousands of decisions all week, he is making those decisions with much better information than we have as fans, considering them against much more experience than we have and working with a team around him who add even more to that mix.
He’s not sat in his pants with the Bake Off on in the background and filtering his squad by “strikers” and then picking the one name that appears with one finger and his nose with the other.
8 points from 5 games for a relegated side is a reasonable start. It’s not perfect sure, but it’s not worthy of the meltdown City fans underwent Saturday evening.
We won’t win every week, but with Alex Neil in charge we will win more often than we lose and we aren’t likely to make the same mistakes twice.
Never mind the danger.