Preston fans may have mixed feelings about Alan Irvine’s time as Preston boss, but we could now see him return to management.
Irvine was the bold choice to become North End boss in 2007. Paul Simpson had been sacked after a poor start to the season, and Preston needed a manager to avoid relegation.
Surprisingly, North End went for somebody who had never been a manager. Preston appointed Irvine, who was working as the assistant to ex-North End hero David Moyes at Everton at the time.
A former youth coach with Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United, Irvine was something of a gamble. Yet with a strong January transfer window – which saw Preston snap up Chris Brown and Richard Chaplow among others – Irvine kept Preston in the Championship.
Barry Nicholson, Ross Wallace, Stephen Elliott and Jon Parkin gave Preston a real boost in Irvine’s second season, and the Scot clinched a play-off place in dramatic fashion on the final day of the season. Sadly, Sean St Ledger’s winner against QPR was all in vain as a semi-final defeat to Sheffield United robbed North End of a potential final meeting with Burnley at Wembley.
That’s where things began to unravel. Irvine was linked with West Brom but stayed at Preston, though squad improvements were hard to come by. Paul Parry and Velice Sumulikoski arrived, with the latter chosen over Charlie Adam. Paul McKenna left for Nottingham Forest, and Sean St Ledger ended up joining Middlesbrough in a somewhat farcical loan deal that never became permanent.
Irvine lost his job in December 2009, with plenty of ups and downs in his first managerial role. Since leaving Deepdale, Irvine has been a prominent coach. He returned to Everton with Moyes after a stint at Sheffield Wednesday boss, but bizarrely landed himself a Premier League job with West Brom in 2014. That lasted just seven months before he was sacked.
More recently, Irvine has worked at Blackburn Rovers, Norwich City – ironically as Alex Neil’s assistant manager – and West Ham. Now, the 61-year-old could be primed for a shock return to management, five years since his last job as a boss.
The Scottish Daily Mail (Page 117, 16/11) claim that Irvine has held talks over a move to Hearts. Craig Levein lost his job last month, and the Tynecastle side are still pursuing a replacement.
That would give Irvine a return to Scotland, and his first coaching job north of the border. There are a host of names in the frame for Hearts, but Irvine landing himself an interview is a big step.
Irvine’s time at Deepdale didn’t particularly end well, but he did give us some great highs, and it will be fascinating to see whether he can recapture some of that magic should he land the Hearts job.