Well, nobody could have possible expected this one.
Alex Neil is staying at Preston. What seemed unthinkable a matter of hours ago is now reality.
Speculation over his future really ramped up in midweek, after West Brom lost to Bristol City. The Baggies had earmarked Neil to become their permanent manager, replacing interim boss James Shan.
Neil took his side to West Brom on Saturday, and lost 4-1 in embarrassing fashion. He admitted after the game that his players were affected by the speculation, but failed to commit his future to North End.
He headed straight down the tunnel at full time, failing to applaud the travelling fans on Gentry Day. He suggested something may materialise this week, and wouldn’t commit to being Preston manager against Ipswich Town on Friday. Every indication was that he would be leaving Deepdale.
Most fans were saying their goodbyes last night, and have now been given the news nobody was anticipating. Neil’s staying, there will be no move to West Brom, and the speculation can end.
Of course, this is great news. It’s still baffling that he couldn’t announce his future was with Preston even last night, leaving fans to worry, but Neil has been a perfect fit as Preston manager, and his two years in charge have been impressive.
The deal will have many asking questions though, and the biggest one is to wonder what he’s been promised. Turning down a move to West Brom is a major shock, as the Baggies offered greater prospects than North End. They have a bigger budget, bigger fanbase, bigger aspirations, just an altogether bigger job.
Firstly, it’s becoming clear that Neil used the West Brom interest as leverage. He’s got himself a three-year contract, the first fixed managerial contract at Deepdale in some time. The rolling contracts usually given out are gone. Neil now has increased security, a bigger salary and no doubt more power.
Last summer, Neil couldn’t get his top targets. North End couldn’t land Kieffer Moore or Kasey Palmer, two players he had targeted. Trevor Hemmings remained frugal with his spending, which would have been to Neil’s frustration.
Now, you have to believe that Neil has been promised some sort of spending power this summer. Not anything major, like £5million signings here and there, but just moving up a notch in spending terms. Taking the step up from £100k to £750k signings into that £1m to £2m bracket; important players who can give North End that extra bit of quality.
Keeping key players will have been a key part of Neil’s demands too. Ben Davies, Ben Pearson and Alan Browne are key players for Neil, so assurances may have been made to keep them. Callum Robinson may still move on given his contract situation, and Tom Barkhuizen is in a similar boat. Given how important he is to North End’s style under Neil, his future may well have featured in the promises given to Neil.
Additionally, this isn’t like Neil has announced that he’s rejecting West Brom and staying for now. This is a three-year deal, a clear sign that North End have shown their ambition to a top young manager.
This is the major signal of intent North End fans have been looking for, and hopefully we’ll see recruitment to go along with it. For now though, let’s celebrate Neil staying and back him to the hilt against Ipswich after a strange few days.