The Ramifications of Mike Phelan’s Appointment at Norwich
In many ways it’s surprising that it has taken a manager of Mike Phelan’s pedigree 17 months to get back into football. Last week, Norwich announced that Phelan would become their new first team coach, working under Neil Adams, who currently finds himself under a significant amount of pressure.
‘It was important for us to try and get the best coach we could,’ Adams stated. ‘I think Mike’s record and experience speak for themselves. I’ve worked with him here. He’ll be working with myself, Gary Holt (first-team coach) and Tony Parkes (goalkeeper coach) out on the grass on a daily basis. He is not a director of football or anything like that. He is a first-team coach.’
An interesting move with mixed implications. On the one hand, Phelan boasts a wealth of experience. ‘My first thoughts are to be the boss now’, he said upon his departure from Manchester United. ‘That’s what I’ve been doing (under Sir Alex Ferguson) albeit with the title of assistant boss’. Perhaps an arrogant tone, but a five year stint boasting three Premier League title wins, a Club World Cup, two League Cups and two runs to the final of the UEFA Champions League dwarfs the entire coaching staff (let alone Adams) at Norwich emphatically.
That experience may help Adams turn around his fortunes at Carrow Road, where Norwich, pushing for promotion with arguably the strongest squad in the division, have taken just seven points from an available 30. Pressure is mounting dangerously with impatient fans already calling for his swift departure, reckoning his lack of experience (this is his first managerial job) too blatant.
Is Phelan a help or hindrance, then? The first questions sparked by Phelan’s appointment were about the personal threat he posed to Adams’ job. Adams responded adamantly of his acceptance of Phelan’s pedigree and his acknowledgement of the threat he represented, but maintained that he wanted to bring the best man in, acting upon the best interests of the club.
It is admirable that he’s willing to take that risk, but Phelan’s arrival arguably signifies a strong change of influence in the backroom staff, which could contradict and undermine Adams’ authority. If results continue to be poor, the players’ confidence in Adams will wane. It’s not absurd to imagine them looking more to Phelan in times of need, which would accentuate divisions in the dressing room further and potentially propose a leadership crisis. Of course, behind closed doors it will be impossible to monitor or analyse that, but if Adams continues to lose, it would challenge the players’ loyalty to his managerial reign.
This may be absurd, and wholly inaccurate, but watch briefly here the footage of Phelan’s press conference where he is unveiled next to Adams. You don’t have to be a psychology expert to see the profound juxtaposition in their body language. Phelan; assured, calm, confident, candid. Adams, fidgety, tentative, nervous-looking. It may be an utter miss-read, but it does beg to ask who will command more respect from the club’s players.
You also don’t have to be doing an undergraduate in management studies to see the potential divisions of Phelan being in the dressing room. Rene Meluensteen only had to work under Martin Jol- an experienced, established continental manager- at Fulham for 3 weeks before he successfully usurped him of the manager’s role.
Ferguson’s no.2s have all nearly all moved on well after their time at Old Trafford. Brian Kidd landed the Blackburn job. Steve McClaren went to Middlesbrough. Carlos Quiroz was allowed a stint at Real Madrid before eventually becoming the Portugal manager. Neil Adams may be fortunate to keep the man he’s welcomed into the club from taking his job.