So, it’s pretty clear that Alex Neil is on his way.
Preston’s 4-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion this afternoon was bad enough, but Neil’s situation has made it even worse. The Scot has been courted by West Brom all week, but was in charge of today’s trip to The Hawthorns.
Neil’s stance of having no intention of leaving has softened in recent days. Tonight, Neil suggested that the saga won’t run much longer, and something may materialise either way before facing Ipswich Town next Friday.
It’s fairly safe to say that Neil is going. It feels like we’re at a point of no return now, and today’s shambles means some are happy to see him go.
Neil’s two years at Deepdale have been superb though, and now a replacement must be found. That’s a tough task for North End, as Neil’s work will need to be continued, rather than a totally different style of manager ripping things up.
Here are nine names, covering a whole host of styles, profiles, and backgrounds for North End to consider once Neil’s inevitable departure is confirmed…
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The gamble: Michael Carrick
If North End had a choice of a young coach with no experience or a cast-off like Steve McClaren, the former may win. Carrick is one suggestion, as he looks to take steps in his coaching career. The 37-year-old is a key coach for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer at Old Trafford, so may not fancy moving just yet. However, North End offer a great first job for Carrick if he was so inclined. It’s local, there are a number of young players to work with, and existing ties to United. It would undoubtedly be a gamble, but there are worse jobs for Carrick to take in his first step into management.
The ex-player: Michael Appleton
Fans often want a connection between manager and club; partly why Solskjaer has fared well at United. Gareth Ainsworth would be a shout for Preston, but Appleton could fit the bill. He’s young, he’s had a great grounding as a coach, and was a Deepdale favourite in his playing days. The 43-year-old played good football with Oxford United, won a promotion and enjoyed great cup runs too. His style of recruitment fits well with Preston, taking young players from bigger clubs and developing them. Ryan Ledson is one of Appleton’s former players, as well as Jonjoe Kenny, Marvin Johnson, Callum O’Dowda, Kemar Roofe, Tyler Roberts, George Baldock, John Lundstram, Chey Dunkley and Joe Rothwell; all of those players are now in the Championship or higher. His record with Blackpool and Blackburn is a concern, but he really fits the profile as a successor to Neil.
The mould-breaker: Daniel Stendel
North End have never had a foreign manager. They’re historically almost always English or Scottish, with a British mould in place throughout the club’s history. What if now was the right time to change that? Taking a gamble like Huddersfield Town did with David Wagner, or Norwich City with Daniel Farke, seems unlikely. But Barnsley’s Stendel has a year of English football under his belt, which may just make him more attractive to Preston, and less of a risk. The 45-year-old has impressed with Barnsley this season, bringing an attractive brand of high-pressing football to Oakwell. If the Tykes win promotion, a move seems unlikely – but if not, he’s a name North End should be interested in.
The youth developer: Mark Warburton
With so many young players at Deepdale, it’s imperative that the new manager can develop them. Warburton’s history in the NextGen series shows his commitment to youth, and that was on show at Brentford too. Yes, spells with Rangers and Nottingham Forest didn’t end well. Expectations at Preston would be far more similar to those at Brentford though, and his patient, possession-based style is an attractive watch. At 56, Warburton needs his next job to be a success. North End’s base of young players should be appealing to Warburton, offering a potentially ideal club at which to implement his philosophy.
The up-and-comer: Grant McCann
North End could go for an up-and-comer, and whilst some fans would want Lincoln City’s Danny Cowley, Grant McCann deserves a shout too. The Doncaster Rovers boss has won almost 50% of his games with the League One side, bouncing back after a mixed spell at Peterborough. At 38, McCann is another talented young manager, and who can forget how his Rovers side dismantled Preston in January? They were exciting all over the park, and deservedly dumped North End out of the FA Cup. Doncaster are challenging for the League One playoffs under McCann, who has worked incredibly well on a tight budget – something key at North End.
The international boss: Michael O’Neill
Preston are plucky underdogs in the Championship, challenging – and often beating – teams with better paid players. One manager who knows all about that is O’Neill, who has earned plaudits for his work with Northern Ireland. Appointed in 2011, O’Neill has created a team greater than the sum of its parts. He took Northern Ireland into the second round of Euro 2016 against all odds, and even took his side close to the 2018 World Cup. His football maybe isn’t as attacking as fans would want, and his domestic managerial history is patchy at best. With Northern Ireland though, 49-year-old O’Neill has maximised the potential of so many players, which would be a vital attribute at Deepdale.
The former flop: Derek McInnes
If North End go for another Scottish manager, Aberdeen’s McInnes could fit the bill. In six years at Aberdeen, McInnes has won more than 50% of his games, and even won the Scottish League Cup in 2014. Some – such as Sunderland and Rangers – have tried to prise him away from Aberdeen and failed, meaning this would be a tricky pursuit. Both clubs were mired in off-field problems though, whereas Preston are a solid Championship club now. It would also be a return to England, having flopped at Bristol City between 2011 and 2013. McInnes has rebuilt and grown since then, and whilst his style of football is a little more direct, he’s created a strong and determined Aberdeen side, much like Neil has with Preston.
The wildcard: Aidy Boothroyd
This one won’t go down well with some. Intriguingly though, The Mirror claimed in 2017 that Boothroyd was on the shortlist to replace Simon Grayson, but lost out to Neil. His stints with Coventry and Northampton are terrifying, really, but they were a long time ago now. He’s currently England Under-21 boss, meaning he has spent three years working with and developing young players, which is one of the most important attributes in our managerial search. He has a Championship promotion on his CV, admittedly way back in 2006, and has shaken off the ‘long ball’ tag with some good football with England’s Under-21’s. This really is a wildcard suggestion, but having been interested two years ago, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Boothroyd got another look now.
The big name: David Moyes
If Trevor Hemmings decides to really have a go – and let’s be honest, it’s doubtful – a hero’s return for Moyes could go down well. A Preston hero having cut his managerial teeth at Deepdale, Moyes now finds himself in no man’s land as a manager. His stint with Manchester United wrecked his reputation, and spells with Real Sociedad and Sunderland didn’t help either. He did show some signs of progress at West Ham last season, but has been out of management for almost a year. His football isn’t particularly attractive, and there’s a fear that the game has passed Moyes by. Still, he’s a Deepdale hero who needs a stable job to really kick on again. Could he be talked back to the club? He’ll certainly be the choice of many fans.