Alex Neil first came to England when he took over at Norwich City. We spoke to our mates from the Canary Cast to give us the lowdown on the Scotsman, and what Sunderland fans can expect.
When Alex Neil joined Norwich City we were 7th in the Championship. We were 3 points off the play-offs after relegation from the Premier League. Which isn't too bad on the face of things, but with and one of the best and most expensive teams in the league we were all expecting far better.
Neil came in straight away and gave everyone a lift, with 0 fear of the task and the fact no one in England had heard of him. He was in the stands against top of the table Bournemouth and came down to the dug out to help the team pull off a fantastic 2-1 win, in just his second day in charge.
At just 33 he went on to win an amazing 17 out of 25 games, getting Norwich promoted via the play-offs (a huge plus for Sunderland at this stage!). Neil was a big fan of the 4-2-3-1 formation, with a big pressing number 9, similar to the profile of Ross Stewart, for the first 60 minutes before bringing on subs. He liked to keep the ball as much as we could but his main approach was intensity and really firing up a squad that was massively underachieving. He was able to bring out the best of some big egos at that level and simplified things to; "you’re the best team in this league, go and show it."
The best example of his planning was the play-off final- the best performance on the biggest stage. He planned for potential traffic and got Norwich players there on the night before so the players could see the pitch and simply be ready for the game before it started. Middlesbrough in contrast, arrived late and were in such a rush the occasion got to them. Norwich were 2-0 up within 15 minutes.
Norwich started well in the Premier League the next season, with impressive wins at Sunderland and Manchester United. Unfortunately it all started to unravel after Norwich lost 6-2 at Newcastle. Neil seemed to lose all of his positive arrogance and intensity, with his confidence really looking knocked. The team then reflected this with some passive performances and we were relegated.
Having worked with Alex Pritchard at Norwich, I would fully expect to see him in the number 10 position in the Neil 4-2-3-1 with regular crosses to Ross Stewart. Having been in the Scottish leagues for a long time I also think he’ll love Aiden McGeady- although he's currently injured, of course. He’ll take on all of the pressure the size of Sunderland brings on his shoulders and make you feel fully confident of his plan going forwards. He has no ego in terms of style of play. He will play however suits Sunderland and knows how to make a sudden impact at each club he’s gone to, he just tends to fizzle out after the first couple of seasons. If you get to the play-offs he has all the background to get you promoted, with 2 promotions at Hamilton and with us at Norwich.