Life without Alex Neil begins.
It’s a strange feeling at the moment, knowing it was probably the right time for him to go, but also feeling very sad at his departure. Neil showed loyalty and made us dream again. Not being able to see his side in action for a year and now knowing we will never see him as Preston manager again is a huge shame.
The next appointment made by Preston North End will be a crucial one. The club is at a crossroads, and the summer was already shaping up to be a key one, with the turnover of players expected.
First things first, we need to make sure the fear of relegation is extinguished, and that job immediately falls into Frankie McAvoy’s hands. Who knows what that will bring, but a fresh approach will hopefully garner some much-needed points on the board.
Understand what the club is all about
Preston North End is a unique club, drenched in tradition and history. Sir Tom Finney, The Invincibles, Bill Shankly, I could go on. Many have said it is such a special club for so many reasons, and it is important the incoming manager understands that. It’s a club that is desperate to return back to the top flight, and that achievement would mean so much to the whole city. It’s a family club. Supporting Preston isn’t a choice, it’s something that is born into you. Following in your family’s footsteps, following the club generation after generation. You see the same faces, each week, home and away, and share the good and bad times with them.
Preston fans are ‘The Gentry’. If you get on board with what this club is about then there’s a good chance you’ll be backed all the way by the fans.
This first season of Alex Neil’s tenure saw a refreshing approach for us at this level. Attacking from the off, closing down the opposition, forcing them into errors. It paid off, and the players massively bought into it. Unfortunately the end of Neil’s reign saw very negative football, and there didn’t seem to be much plan at all.
The new manager will need to be positive, especially at Deepdale. Entertain the fans, push for the win, don’t sit back. If those boxes are ticked, then the fans will be on your side, regardless if results take a hit now and again.
Give the team an identity
Following on from this, it’s important to install a style of play that is maintained. Again this is something that has been lost in the last year or so. You never knew what you were going to get from the eleven players on the pitch recently, and I don’t think they had much of an idea either. Whatever formation is going to be picked, it would be great to have the same mentality, whether it’s a counter attacking team, possession based, using wing-play. This can then be carried through the youth team as well, so the players know exactly what is expected of them each and every match day.
One thing Alex Neil was guilty of was worrying too much about the opposition, and shaping up to try and counter all the problems they would give us. We should give them problems to worry about, and stick to our guns of how we want to play.
Scout far and wide for new talent
It remains to be seen how much of a say a new manager or head coach will have on new signings. The recruitment department is taking a new shape, but one would hope it will now include players that are not just cheap options from Ireland or League One/Two.
The signing of Emil Riis was refreshing, as it showed we had started to look a bit further afield. It’s a big summer for the club, and you would expect quite a few signings being made. Neil spoke about the fact he had lost the spine of his team, and the character of any incomings is going to be crucial. We need leaders, having lost so much experience recently. Neil’s replacement needs to know exactly the type of player he or she wants to bring to the club, and hopefully arrives with a few connections in the industry that can help him out. They will need to be prepared to work with a tight budget for this level as well.
This club needs to be brought to the next level. We’ve realistically dreamed of promotion to the Premier League for the last 20 years since David Moyes brought us so close. We’ve had to watch Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers and even the other lot enjoy some time in the top flight. There’s no reason why we can’t achieve that. Look at Barnsely this season. One of the favourites for relegation at the start of the campaign. They would have gone down last season if it wasn’t for Wigan’s points deduction.
Get the right mix of players and the right style of play and it’s possible. Remember the buzz around the place when we were top of the table last season after the away win at Charlton Athletic? Get to those heights again, and Deepdale will be bouncing. The energy and excitement generated from that can help carry you over the line.
The new manager should aim high, and not be conservative. Nothing would kill the vibe more, than if they came out and said ‘we’ll just aim to survive first, and see where we go from there’. Of course it is important that we stay in this league for next season first of all.