New Norwich boss Alex Neil - determined, detailed and daunting

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Alex Neil has taken Hamilton to third place in the Scottish Premiership
Alex Neil has steered Hamilton to third place in the Scottish Premiership on a meagre budget

New Norwich City manager Alex Neil has learned from the successes and mistakes of his mentor.

He worked under Billy Reid at Hamilton Academical, and advised Reid to move to Swansea City when the club wanted him to replace Paulo Sousa five years ago, but Reid chose to stay. He is now an assistant manager in Sweden's second tier.

Neil is ambitious, and has always indicated a desire to test himself at the highest level. So he was always likely to accept the offer to succeed Neil Adams at Carrow Road. Reid was his friend, but also the man who shaped his career.

Neil was a right-back when he pitched up at Hamilton from Mansfield Town in 2005; Reid restored him to a holding midfield role because of two significant qualities: his tenacity and his ability to read the game.

Those traits have served Neil well. He only became Hamilton player-manager in April 2013, when Reid stepped down. Since then, he has guided the club to promotion - via the play-offs last summer - and to an eye-catching campaign in the Premiership, which has included topping the table in October.

For perspective, no side in the top division has a lower wage budget. Hamilton regularly field a team in which half of the players have come through the youth ranks, and he led the team to their first win at Celtic Park since 1938.

Following that 1-0 win, Neil gathered all of the players and club officials in the dressing room and urged them to make the most of the moment, and to build on it. The display and result were typical of Neil - not least because he was booked in the second half, while still amongst the substitutes.

He has a steely edge, and can occasionally be overly aggressive. That tends to generally be controlled, though, and the spikiness will be required as he tries to impose his authority on the Norwich squad. Many of the players will be around the same age as Neil - who is 33 - and most will have played at a higher level and earned more money from their careers.

In a world where wealth and kudos are commodities, Neil must find a way to display leadership and motivation without compromising his principles.

Alex Neil was mentored by former Hamilton boss Billy Reid (left)
Alex Neil worked closely with former Hamilton boss Billy Reid (left)

"He's very calm and won't be fazed," said the former Rangers midfielder Derek Ferguson, who regularly reports on Hamilton games for BBC Scotland and whose youngest son is a youth player at New Douglas Park.

"I did my B coaching badge with him. He has an edge and that's really important."

The victory over Celtic was also typical of Neil because he was not prepared to limit his players or alter his tactical approach. Reid would often make Hamilton more defensive when they played bigger clubs, but Neil urges his players to have belief in their abilities and to trust in their game plan.

The approach has worked, which is why Neil became Norwich's choice to replace Adams. Reid believes that his protege will succeed, remarking on him being "grounded" and that there is "no chance he will be overawed by the challenge down there".

Reid has also spoken about his decisions being challenged by Neil in the dressing room, but with his captain asking questions "in the right way". Reid tasked him with personally overseeing the development of James McCarthy and James McArthur, who broke through at Hamilton as teenagers and now play for Everton and Crystal Palace respectively.

Neil will become the second youngest manager in the Football League. Norwich even had to technically sign him as a player, since his registration needed to be transferred to the Football Association from its Scottish counterpart. As a manager, he is clear-sighted and principled.

His Hamilton side played passing football, initiating swift, incisive counter attacks that were built upon well-organised and strategically shrewd tactics. Always in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with forward-thinking players out wide.

Accies' approach is so ordered and sound that individuals can fit seamlessly into different positions because they all know what is expected of them.

Neil, like all of the new generation of managers, relies on comprehensive analysis of his own team's performance and those of opponents. The Norwich players will be used to that kind of approach, but Neil does face challenges.

At Hamilton, he had coached the younger age group teams before becoming manager, so had worked with many of the players already. They were also well-versed in the club's style, and most were young, so open to technical coaching and instruction. The players at Norwich will be more established in their ways. Even so, Neil is a strong character.

Alex Neil passes on instructions to Hamilton's top-scorer Tony Andreu after a goal
Alex Neil forged a strong bond with the players at Hamilton Academical

"I'm a very secure person," Neil has said. "I have very few insecurities in terms of confidence, speaking to a group and putting my message across.

"I don't mind demanding the most out of them or booting someone up the backside if I feel they aren't pulling their weight. All these sides to the job don't really bother me. It's something that comes naturally."

Like Reid, he is able to inspire players. Neil has spoken of his willingness to risk long-term injury to play for Reid, and the guilt he felt whenever he wasn't playing for the team, because he felt he was personally letting Reid down. After the news broke that Norwich and Hamilton had agreed compensation, many of the players leaving New Douglas Park looked visibly shaken and upset.

It is a small, close-knit club and Neil made sure to know the partners and families of his players. He will have to adapt to the size and demands of Norwich, but he is good at sizing up challenges.

Following Reid might have daunted lesser characters, but instead of trying to copy his predecessor, Neil altered Hamilton's approach, so that the players were more focused on their own playing style, rather than countering the tactics of the opposition.

Neil also capably handled the challenges of combining playing and management. He was often Hamilton's best player, and understood how to juggle the two roles. He once fined himself for indiscipline on the field, by taking 24 players out for a three-course lunch.

Neil is a talented and capable manager. His inexperience will test the limits of his potential, and the job at Norwich is of a very different stature to Hamilton, but in his own mind he is ready.

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