With a number of twists and turns having already occurred in West Bromwich Albion’s bid to appoint Sam Allardyce’s successor at The Hawthorns this summer, as approaches for targets such as Chris Wilder, David Wagner and Roy Hodgson have all fallen through for a variety of reasons, Guochuan Lai may have just stumbled upon a perfect candidate for the role.
Following the news that the West Brom owner had personally blocked a move to appoint Wilder as the club’s new manager, the former Huddersfield Town head coach, David Wagner, emerged as a surprising leading candidate for the position, with reports suggesting that the 49-year-old was set to be announced as the Baggies new boss in the coming days.
However, Wagner now looks as if he will be heading to Switzerland to become the new Young Boys boss, meaning that West Brom’s search rumbles on, with a host of new names being linked with the job.
One of these names is Alex Neil, and, considering the 40-year-old’s history of managing sides in the Championship as well as Scotland, West Brom could have finally found the right man for the job.
After being appointed as the Hamilton Academical manager as a 31-year-old towards the back end of the club’s 2012/13 Scottish Championship campaign, Neil won five, drew one and lost one of his first seven games in charge of the Scottish side, with the Accies finishing the season in fifth place.
The following year, the young coach guided his side to a second-place finish in the second tier of Scottish football following a highly impressive season, eventually going on to seal promotion to the Scottish Premiership via the play-offs.
Neil’s upwards trajectory with Hamilton continued in the club’s 2014/15 campaign, with the Accies winning 12, drawing three and losing five of their first 20 Premiership fixtures, with the club, rather remarkably, sitting in third place in the top flight of Scottish football.
This form was enough for Championship side Norwich City to take a gamble on the Hamilton manager, appointing him as their new boss in January of 2015, when the club were sitting in seventh place in the league, three points outside the play-off places.
Neil went on to guide the Canaries to third that season, before winning the play-off final and securing the return of Premier League football to Carrow Road.
The best part of four seasons at Preston North End followed for the 40-year-old, with the Scot twice narrowly missing out on a top-six finish with the Lilywhites, securing a seventh-place finish in his first year at Deepdale and a ninth-place finish in 2019/20, before he parted company with the club in March this year.
As such, while history would suggest that Neil is not particularly a long term manager, he very much appears to have an immediate impact on a side after taking over, something that, with West Brom looking to secure an immediate return to the Premier League next season, could be an extremely useful string to the manager’s bow.
So, if the club cannot convince Guochuan Lai of a move to appoint Wilder, the manager Sebastien Bassong dubbed a “perfect” coach could well be the next best choice for the Baggies.