So, the deed is done. Alex Neil is gone. The question is, why now? To allow him to go ahead with his Friday press conference and talk about his thoughts ahead of a game it had clearly been decided he would not oversee, is odd. Insensitive, some might say. Few would have seen that in the morning tea-leaves, including Neil himself, especially given the events of the past fortnight.
But then this is Norwich City, a club that prides itself in doing different, that continues to hold to values which football threw on the fire long ago. Like continuing to back a manager who at any other club in the known world would have been relieved of their duties. “My dream is to have a manager for 10 years”, Delia Smith told Times journalist Henry Winter back in November. Such sentiment, however laudable, has no place in the modern game, and yet time and again it has informed key board decisions.
Neil deserved better than today’s shabby ending and he would have got it if they had pulled the plug months ago. We will all have our own view on when that should have been. Some felt the defeat to Huddersfield just before Christmas should have been the turning point and a chance to let someone else take charge before the transfer window opened. A poor home result is always more damaging for a manager than an away one, after all. For others, the total no-show at Rotherham, a side then six points adrift at the bottom of the table should have proved too much for the board to stomach. How could we mount a promotion charge if we couldn’t get so much as a point there, fans were left to ponder?
Then there was the debacle at Burton Albion and the draw with one of the most impotent Ipswich teams in living memory, only Jacob Murphy’s equaliser preventing the post-match atmosphere outside Carrow Road from turning toxic. All of which meant Sheffield Wednesday was a game of huge importance, especially when City had been unable to mix it with all other top-six sides. In the event, the board and long-suffering travelling fans witnessed City pants not so much being pulled down as entirely removed. Yet on Monday morning Neil was still very much in charge and preparing for the trip to Bristol City, where his charges would again come up short.
So why was he allowed to drag us to a point where all hope of a play-off place had died? The second season ticket deadline- by pure coincidence – is today (Saturday 10 March) and while the owners’ patent desire was to cling on to their man, a sharp drop in season ticket sales will have caused furrowed brows, even in their Ivory Tower. Relegation followed by another dogs’ dinner of a season has caused even some stalwart fans not to renew and with a home game today, Neil has been sacrificed in the hope it will persuade them to ‘stay part of the family’.
Ultimately, the ham-fisted timing proves this is a board that never learns from its mistakes. Worthington was kept well beyond his sell-by date because Delia and Michael had allowed him and his wife to become too close to them, leading to steeet protests and a poisonous finale at Carrow Road.Gunn should have been sacked in the summer after the team tanked and slid into the third-tier of English football. He wasn’t and the ghastly events of that opening game against Colchester unfolded. They clung on to Houghton, but then jettisoned him with five games left when it was all too late. This time, in a season when it was crucial we made the most of the strong squad still available post-relegation, heart has again ruled head and valuable fixtures have come and gone.
Neil’s achievements must not be forgotten. He did what few City managers have done by winning a big occasion and the confidence with which we despatched Middlesbrough at Wembley will live long in the memory. All managers have a shelf-life and after relegation and a deeply uninspiring Championship season it was clear Neil had reached his. But the decision-making off the pitch, as well as on it, demonstrates the club’s problems extend far beyond the dugout.