Well, over the course of just two days, I made the biggest U-turn since former Prime Minister Ted Heath in the 1970s. He went back on the entire Conservative manifesto, whereas I slammed into reverse over a couple of big statements on Preston boss Alex Neil. And for context, here are just a couple of my Tweets…
But to claw back a fraction of dignity for myself, in my previous piece, although I described Alex Neil’s departure as a certainty, I also celebrated him as one of the greatest Preston North End managers of the 21st century. I lauded his tactical nous, I praised his meticulous attention to detail but I also underlined a couple of criticisms.
It was not an antsy slandering contest, rather, a fair and justifiable assessment of a man who myself and many others believed was heading for the exit.
But on his way to that exit, something happened. Owner Trevor Hemmings and Chairman Peter Ridsdale took Alex Neil aside, not to arrange his departure and help pack his bags, but to organise a long-term project. An ambitious project that would extend Neil’s stay at the club for a further three years. The first time the club have gone against the rolling contract policy brought in with Graham Westley.
Who knows what Hemmings and co. said to Neil. But I can probably have a pretty educated guess.
First off, money.
Peter Ridsdale hailed Alex Neil as, “one of the best young managers in the game.”
High praise indeed, but it comes at a price. It can be assumed, then, that Neil’s personal wage was topped up; maybe a few quid and a packet of crisps. But what else did they offer him?
A new company car? Maybe, but more importantly, the assurance that the club will do it’s utmost to ensure that the key weapons in our armoury are tied down.
In theory this sounds extremely promising, but do not expect this to be entirely the case.
Football players are not just impassive pawns and faceless human capital. They have their own individual demands. Whether these demands are monetary or more personal, they exist nonetheless.
Loyalty, unfortunately, just doesn’t seem to exist in football anymore, which is why I firmly believed that Alex Neil, especially after his own subdued comments, was leaving for good.
Teesider Jordan Hugill ditched us for moneybags West Ham, Simon Grayson got himself to Sunderland quicker than Usain Bolt could run the 100m and first-class Cunningham landed himself a job at top tier Cardiff.
However, the fact that the powers above managed to retain the services of a man poached by a club of the size and stature of West Brom is at least a step forward.
For once, it shows intent and it shows commitment. Maybe, just maybe, we can keep our core together. But it’ll take a bit of fight.
Another question sitting on the lips of us fans is summer outlay. Will Mr. Neil be given a transfer warchest to go out and make us real promotion candidates?
Granted, money does not guarantee success, far from it, I mean just take a look at Stoke. But, a couple of signings of similar ilk to Brad Potts certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
I’m not talking £10+ million on a player who would upset the applecart, just someone to get us excited. A player who can breach the 20+ goal a season watermark. Big ask? Yes. Unreasonable? No.
Over the past couple of years there have been many murmurings surrounding potential signings that have fallen at the final hurdle due to “financial restraints”: Kieffer Moore, Callum Johnson and Joe Hart to name but a few. Wouldn’t it be nice if for once we could make a couple of those signings happen?
It has been rumoured that fullback Joe Rafferty, who has played just 70 minutes of football for North End, was Neil’s fourth choice for the RB position. Now that is just ridiculous. Surely Neil will have demanded more transfer autonomy?
One thing that’s for sure, is we have to remain realistic. It’s common knowledge that animals with four legs take precedent over those with two for Trevor Hemmings. We will never be big spenders which is fine: sustainability is our priority.
But I do feel as though we have turned a corner. After two “if only” seasons under Neil, it’s about time we bite the bullet, pull off a couple of statement signings and tie the big guns down.
As my namesake Bob Dylan once said, “The Times They are A-Changin'”.
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