7 Min Read
Nov 01 2022
From player, to Manager, to Loans Manager, to Sporting Director, Neil Adams has seen it all at Norwich City. In September 2021 Adams was promoted to Assistant Sporting Director, a role he has been in for just over a year now and his first major target will be helping ensure that Norwich City get promoted back into the Premier League after relegation in the 2021/22 season.
After a highly successful playing career and a brief managerial stint, Adams has also been a success upstairs, and with his career taking a different path it has been a challenge that he has been enjoying thoroughly. Speaking to Colm Hand, Adams spoke about his career and the new challenges he now faces in his new role as Assistant Sporting Director.
“I played in the Premier League and the Championship, I won the Premier League and the Championship, and I managed in the Premier League and Championship, which is something I’m incredibly proud of. Football’s been my life. I’ve experienced almost 40 years in the game now and am really enjoying my current position and the path that my career has taken,” Adams said.
Over the course of the past 12 months, Adams has been working closely with Sporting Director Stuart Webber, who joined the Canaries in April 2017 as part of a restructuring process at the club. After stints at Huddersfield Town, Wolverhampton Wanderers, QPR, Liverpool and Wrexham, Webber has the perfect blend of experience for newly appointed Adams to learn from.
“I think that Stuart and myself will work really well together and, have done for the five years since he came into the building. Sometimes you just get that feel. It was a great honour for me that he promoted me to this position with the backing of the board, and we have complete have trust in each other.
You’ve got to work incredibly hard. But importantly, you’ve got to be able to challenge each other too. And that’s one of the things I think Stuart likes – I’m not a yes man, he wouldn’t tolerate that, it wouldn’t work and he doesn’t want that. It’s also something I’ve never been, and sometimes that has perhaps cost me throughout my career. But I won’t change that.
I think anyone in a position of leadership has to be able to put complete trust in their staff and expect them to be loyal. You also have to make your staff feel valued, which is so important, but, in turn, you have to expect them to also add real value to the club. The working relationship we have here is really healthy, and we both as leaders have the same sort of strategies as to how we want to progress even further” Adams explained.
The role of Assistant Sporting Director is becoming more prominent across the game with David Weir (Brighton) and Julian Ward (Liverpool) both promoted from the position in recent months. Adams previously held the Loans Manager role but now assists across all areas of the football departments.
“We both work together across the football side of the business, whilst obviously overseeing all the other departments. We attend all board meetings, all executive committee meetings, and all club strategy meetings. Our daily workload though is primarily focused on the football team.
When I was promoted to this position it was a bit of being thrown in at the deep end, because within a few weeks we changed the Head Coach! It was a huge learning curve straight away,” Adams said.
Adams paid tribute to the role of Webber in helping to develop the infrastructure at the club and both men continue to focus on improving the working environment at Norwich.
“Five years ago, the club changed from the old Chief Executive/ Manager setup to the Sporting Director/ Head Coach model, which was almost viewed as the ‘European model’ but which is now much more prevalent throughout English clubs. The restructure was probably one of the best decisions the club has made in my opinion. The Head Coach / Sporting Director model allows the Head Coach to be just that, to focus on coaching the team, picking the team and winning football matches, with all the other peripheral aspects being taken away to be dealt with by Stuart or myself. Previously, under the Chief Executive/ Manager model, the manager had significantly more to do, which would often restrict him from focusing on the main job in hand.
Take dealing with agents, contracts, or recruitment, as examples. So much time is taken away from a manager who has to do this, when he could be much better served dealing with on-field matters instead, in my opinion. This alternative model affords the Head Coach that sort of space, so to speak, to focus on what’s important to him and essentially what his job is all about. The Sporting Director can take away a large load of that workload, that noise, that mess, at times, if you like, away from the Head Coach,” Adams added.
While a Sporting Director is still a relatively new role, we are constantly seeing different modifications to the role. In this case with Norwich City, we can see the benefits of Sporting Directors having an Assistant to work closely with, and bounce ideas off each other.
“I think the model we have works best when you’re debating things together. You’re making big decisions, and, whilst obviously Stuart will always have the final call, there are occasions where you’re the one who is in charge and accordingly the one who is being asked whenever there is a decision to be made.
What really made me feel proud and honoured when Stuart was talking to me about potentially taking this role, was him saying that not only did he think that I was totally suited for the Sporting Director pathway, but also that he’d be mad not to tap into my 40 years of experience in the game. Like I said, I think we work really well together, and it seems natural. He knows for certain that I’ll always be honest with him and will always support him, and vice-versa, and that we will always put the best interests of the club first.”
Having a great working relationship between Sporting Director and Manager can be a huge benefit for both parties. Tapping into his 40 years of experience, Adams works closely with First Team Manager, Dean Smith to help take some of the weight off his shoulders.
“We have offices that are literally next door to each other, so we speak regularly throughout each day. Our relationship with Dean and his coaches is really strong. We have a strong connection and decisions are sometimes made over a cup of tea and a biscuit. But we also have proper communication, and by that I mean people can speak up and give an opinion, and don’t feel that they have to say things just to keep other people happy. From my experience, if you’re not open and honest with each other, there’s almost always a cast-iron guarantee that there will be a problem for you that’s not too far away.
Working so well with Dean Smith and his coaching staff, it is clear to see that the advantages of having a Sporting Director was something that was greatly missed in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons.
“On reflection, whilst I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of being the First Team Manager, without doubt it would have been so helpful for someone like myself going into their first managerial job to have had some of that noise taken away.”
With Adams and Smith having such a close and open relationship, this is something that Norwich can benefit from, and both parties will be hoping that all the hard work can translate into results on the pitch as the Canaries look to bounce back to the Premier League.
This article was composed by Colm Hand and Liverpool John Moores University student Daniel Harrison.
Photo Credits: pinkun.com