HAMILTON Academical are preparing to lose the services of highly-rated manager Alex Neil after the 33-year-old spent yesterday in talks with Norwich City officials over the vacant job at Carrow Road.
Hamilton chairman Ronnie Macdonald granted Norwich permission to speak to Neil after the English Championship club made contact with the Scottish Premiership side on Tuesday night. Neil’s odds tumbled from 33-1 to evens for the Norwich job with Scottish betting firm McBookie.com before the market was suspended.
Now the move hinges only on the question of how much compensation Norwich have to play Hamilton, with Neil also registered as a player for the New Douglas Park club. Unusually, Norwich may need to first “purchase” Neil as a player before securing his services as manager.
Neil was present on Tuesday at a press conference that had been held unusually early to preview next Monday’s league clash with Dundee United. Now it seems likely that Neil will be in the Norwich dugout – providing he decides against selecting himself to play – for Saturday’s Championship clash with league leaders Bournemouth.
Neil has appeared eight times this season in midfield for Hamilton and made his most recent appearance in the 5-0 victory over local rivals Motherwell on New Year’s Day.
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But it is his obvious managerial ability that has attracted the attention of Norwich, who have been impressed with Neil’s success with Hamilton. Since taking over as manager from Billy Reid in April 2013 at the age of just 31, Neil has proved himself to be an astute manager, leading Hamilton to promotion last season via a play-off victory over Hibernian.
His side are now in third place in the Premiership, just three points behind Celtic. Among Hamilton’s successes this season was a 1-0 win at Celtic Park – their first victory there for 75 years.
Neil was installed as the favourite to take over at Norwich yesterday, following Neil Adams’ resignation on Monday. Despite seeing his side win three of their five games in December, Adams left following Saturday’s 2-0 FA Cup defeat to Preston North End. However, Norwich are still seventh in the Championship, and are well placed to seal a play-off position at least.
Adams explained that, while he believed Norwich are still on course for promotion back to the Premier League, he felt it was “in the best interests of the team that an immediate change is made in order to ensure a positive impact on results”.
Mike Phelan, who assisted Sir Alex Ferguson until his retirement from Manchester United, was put in temporary charge but his reign may not even include a game, with Neil having spent yesterday in England. Neil Lennon was often linked with a move to Norwich during his time at Celtic and the Carrow Road club have looked to Scotland once more, after noting Lennon’s success following his move to Bolton Wanderers earlier this season. Chief executive David McNally is a Scot and, having been tasked with finding Adams’ successor, he has turned to Hamilton.
“Further to an official approach by Norwich City, permission was granted for our Manager Alex Neil to meet the Norwich Board,” said a statement from Hamilton Accies chairman Macdonald yesterday. “Alex travelled to Norwich today to view the stadium and training ground.
“Alex will return tomorrow for a meeting with myself, after which a further statement will be made. We are delighted that Alex’s achievements have been recognised by this approach and that our policy of progressing players, staff and managers continues.”
Hamilton saw star players James McArthur and James McCarthy move to England in recent seasons and are proud of their record of developing young talent. Billy Reid turned down an offer to take over at Swansea City while manager at Hamilton. However, it seems Neil, with reports indicating he liked what he heard and saw in Norwich yesterday, is not inclined to pass up this opportunity to move to the English Championship.
“I am a very secure person,” he said in an interview in September. “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 of them or booting someone up the backside if I feel they aren’t pulling their weight.”
“I am very ambitious,” he added. “I’m here to do a job and, once I think I’ve taken it as far as I can, like anything else, there’s got to be another challenge.
“It would be very difficult to leave here but provided I can continue to do well, I know Ronnie [Macdonald] would never hold me back. In fact, I’m sure he’d try to help me.”
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