ALEX’S SMART MOVE
Norwich boss Alex Neil on throwing himself into the Carrow Road job
FEW Norwich fans would have had Alex Neil at the top of their managerial wish-list in January, and the offer of a one-year rolling contract could be perceived as a scant show of faith from board members too.
Isolated from his family back home in Scotland – with FaceTime the main way he gets to see them – the 33-year-old has thrown himself into his work, winning everyone over at Carrow Road after surprisingly beating much-talked about candidates Mike Phelan, Tim Sherwood and Karl Robinson to the job as Neil Adams’ successor.
The Canaries have soared up the Championship table since his appointment, taking 33 points from his first 15 games in charge going into the Easter weekend.
But the former Hamilton Academical player-boss believes he still has plenty to prove, despite catapulting the Norfolk club into a four-way scrap for automatic promotion back to the Premier League with Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and Watford.
The boy from Bellshill – also the birthplace of Sir Matt Busby – is not about to rest on his laurels.
“I felt I had something to prove,” said Neil, who last week helped launch the nationwide Aviva Community Fund, nominating the Beatson Cancer Charity to benefit after they helped care for his father-in-law before his death last year.
“I think you’ve always got something to prove regardless of where you go, how highprofile you are, what age you are.
“If you don’t continue to learn and get better and prove points day in, day out, game in, game out, then eventually you might find yourself out of a job.
“I’ll always have a point to prove and have had since I came down here. I’m gradually doing that.
“Initially, the players were looking at this young guy coming down from Scotland and you’ve got to go in and set your stall out. But they have adapted and responded extremely well, and I have got a fantastic relationship with the full squad. The fans have also changed their opinion.
“I think there was some trepidation about someone so young coming down, but the owners and support mechanisms I have at the club have helped me to do my job as well as I can.”
In order to pursue his opportunity with Norwich, Neil has had to leave everything he knows behind him in Glasgow.
But, far from feeling isolated, English football’s second-youngest manager – he is three months older than Mansfield boss Adam Murray, pictured below – says no home-life distractions have aided his fine start in Norfolk.
“It’s difficult that I don’t get to see my family very often, but FaceTime is really useful and we do that quite a lot,” he says.
“But in another sense it means I’m solely focusing on the job, I don’t really do much else. I’m working, go home and try and relax for a few hours, then I go to sleep and I’m back in for the next day. So it’s allowed me to focus on a really intense period to try and make sure I maximise getting the most out of myself and everybody else. “When I came here Norwich were seventh, just outside of the play-offs and the chances of automatic promotion at that stage were looking slim.
“But because of the hard work we have done we find ourselves in a situation where automatic promotion is a realistic goal for us.
“So if we could actually achieve that, it would be a real turn of events and everybody would be delighted.”
NEIL-LY THERE: Alex Neil has got Norwich on the verge of promotion to the topflight, something he achieved in Scotland last season with Hamilton, inset