Ladies and Gentleman; presenting 3 rounds of heavyweight management. In the yellow corner, Paul “The Messiah” Lambert and in the green corner, Alex “The Real Deal” Neil. Errrrrrrrrr let’s get ready to rumble!
With the new football season upon us in just over a month how will the newly promoted class of 2014/15 fare in their first season back in the Premier League in comparison to the class of 2010/11. On the evidence that we have seen so far who is the better manager? If the two were going head to head in a simulated management style boxing match I analyse who would come out on top over a three round prize fight shootout.
Round 1 – Who can establish their jab through the best use of their squad?
A boxer’s best weapon is their jab so this seems the logical place to start. Just to compare win percentages in their respective Championship seasons would seem a little too simplistic; both managers took over the reins at Norwich under very different circumstances and each both had their own challenges to overcome.
Paul Lambert – Has the Bargain basement jab punching a few floors up.
Despite having a lower win percentage than Alex Neil, some would argue that Lambert’s stats are more impressive due to the quality of squad that he had available to him. His options were limited even with a comparatively bigger budget in his first season in the Premier League. Gradually over the course of three seasons he built on a shoe string a squad capable of holding their own at the top level. I remember reading the posts on various fan forums regarding the unveiling of our latest signings many of which contained the bewildered cries of “Who? Never heard of him! Cheap cheap canaries again!” Whether comments such as these were tongue-in-cheek or just throw-away remarks based on too high expectations, the fans did have a right to approach the club’s latest transfer policy with trepidation.
The fact that Lambert was able to blend players together of average or above average Championship standard and to get them to perform out of their skins week in, week out, was testament to his undeniable ability. He would get players running through brick walls for him, playing with intensity right until the final whistle. Any hardcore Norwich fan will be aware of that very compelling and well-known stat; goals scored in the last 10 minutes equated to a points haul of 30 plus in Norwich’s Championship season under Lambert.
I remember in January of this year listening to a canary caller called Sean who was very critical of Neil Adams but his case was hard to argue with. He stated that a football team is an extension of the manager’s personality and style and in this case metaphorically speaking “his jab.” Paul Lambert’s jab had steal and even if his Norwich team were beaten in the opening exchanges of jabs they were more often than not able to come back with a quite a few solid ones of their own. That counter jab in the 1-1 draw at Anfield wasn’t a bad one was it?
Alex Neil has a heavier jab at his disposal so throws fewer punches, but makes sure he scores with them and catches the judges’ eye (the fans.)
Coming into manage an underachieving squad that was hailed the best in the division had its own pressure from day one. Neil Adams found this out to his detriment as in many aspects it was a no-win situation; even if the team loses then according to the fans you don’t know what you are doing and if they win then apparently Norwich should be beating opponents of that standard anyway.
Having a good jab is all about timing and Neil’s timing was impeccable when catching the judge’s eye. He was only supposed to be on a watching brief in the away match against Bournemouth, but when Norwich were reduced unfairly to 10 men, things changed. Many other managers would have stayed in the comfort of the director’s box and dealt with the post mortem during the week but from the touchline he instead masterminded a very unlikely win against the league leaders. His timing was also on the money in three local derbies and a playoff final by jabbing his opponents senseless with his team’s fast passing and off the ball movement. His timing was very much unlike Middlesbrough’s who infamously arrived late for their own Wembley final.
Verdict – Lambert’s jab wins the round due to despite having to always punch in a higher weight category was constantly on the front foot.