Alex Neil seemingly isn’t leaving Preston any time soon, but one popular name to succeed him in the future is Gareth Ainsworth.

When Neil received interest from West Bromwich Albion in April, Ainsworth was a common choice among North End fans. After all, Ainsworth is something of a cult hero at Deepdale.

Ainsworth had three spells with Preston as a player; the first coming back in 1992, joining from Northwich Victoria having initially been in the Blackburn Rovers ranks.

Whilst his first spell ended abruptly, joining Cambridge United just months after arriving. Ainsworth joined John Beck at Cambridge United, and when Beck became Preston boss in December 1992, he brought Ainsworth with him.

This time, Ainsworth starred for North End. With over 100 appearances for Preston, the midfielder was a fan favourite at Deepdale, best known for his commitment and endeavour, with supporters still remembering him fondly to this day.

Wycombe Wanderers manager Gareth Ainsworth. (Photo by Richard Martin-Roberts – CameraSport via Getty Images )

Ainsworth’s final spell with North End came as a loanee in 2002, but it’s fair to say nobody forgot about him. His career ended with Cardiff City, Queens Park Rangers and Wycombe Wanderers, hanging up his boots with the latter.

The 46-year-old has been managing Wycombe since 2012, with a burgeoning reputation as a talented boss. Ainsworth’s 40% win rate with the Chairboys is hugely impressive, whilst he also clinched promotion from League Two with them in 2018. Now, his side sit second in League One, boasting one of the best attacking records in the third tier.

Now, Sky Sports report that Ainsworth is a wanted man. Both Millwall and Sunderland have made moves for him, with Wycombe granting both teams permission to hold talks with him. Millwall are seeking a new boss after Neil Harris’s exit, whilst Sunderland are keen after sacking Jack Ross.

(Photo by Andrew Vaughan – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Ainsworth now has a tough decision. He can stay with Wycombe, where he is a real hero with a great shot at promotion this season, or seize a rare chance to manage a club the size of Sunderland. Millwall can even offer him a move to the Championship, which will be hugely appealing.

A move to the Lions would see Ainsworth return to Deepdale in February, when Preston next meet Millwall. North End fans will no doubt wish Ainsworth the best, no matter what he decides.

If Ainsworth does go though, it would seemingly rule out the prospect of him becoming Preston manager any time soon, though hopefully we won’t be in the market for one any time soon.

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