Alex Neil: one year on

A year on from Alex Neil’s unlikely appointment at Norwich, Dan Brigham assesses his impact for the brilliant website From Al Pacino to giant marrows, here’s a glimpse of what he had to say about David McNally's inspired appointment

When casting began on turning Mario Puzo’s bestselling Mafia epic The Godfather into a movie, the studio wanted big names for the leads. Star names; faces familiar to a cinema audience. For Michael Corleone, the all-American son back from serving with the Marines, producer Bob Evans drew up a list of actors: Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Martin Sheen, Warren Beatty. The biggies.

The director, Francis Ford Coppola, had a different list for Michael. It was one line, and two words: Al Pacino. He was unknown in Hollywood, a small guy who Coppola had recently seen in Broadway play Does A Tiger Wear A Necktie? The performance had stuck with Coppola, and now he wanted this little guy in his big movie.

Evans was aghast. No way he was casting an unknown. “A runt will not play Michael,” he told Coppola. Well, the runt did play Michael. Coppola got his way, smoothing Evans’ jumpiness by allowing the casting of established actor James Caan to play Michael’s brother, Sonny. The rest is moving pictures history.

Coppola was lucky social media didn’t exist back in 1972. He’s lucky the Internet didn’t exist (it definitely didn’t; I just googled it). An unknown announced for the lead role? These numpties don’t know what they’re doing. The casting directors are totally lacking in tactical nous. Should’ve gone for a safe pair of hands like Redford.

Sometimes, though – many times, in fact – it’s best to trust a man with a singular vision, a man who can spot talent before anyone else. Coppola wanted Pacino. David McNally, Norwich’s chief executive, wanted Alex Neil. Unknown. Unglamorous. Definitely not a safe pair of hands.

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