Neil Critchley - next Luton Town manager? Insight and opinion
Following confirmation of the departure of Nathan Jones to Southampton, the Luton Town board now have the unenviable task of finding an heir to, arguably, our most successful manager in decades.
As is always the case, bookmakers have identified a whole host of candidates with differing levels of experience and causing plenty of discussion amongst supporters on social media.
One name confirmed by multiple sources, and as first reported from Football Insider, as being shortlisted by the Hatters board is Neil Critchley.
Crewe-born Critchley joined the youth setup of his hometown club in 1989, aged 10, under the watch of Dario Gradi.
Aged 20, Critchley made his Crewe debut in a 3-0 defeat at Fulham, his only appearance before signing for Leigh RMI in 2000.
After only 3 substitute appearances for Leigh RMI and aged only 24, Critchley called time on his playing days and started began his coaching career,
Coaching career and managerial taster
Following his playing retirement, Critchley re-joined Crewe as a coach to Dario Gradi and worked alongside now England assistant manager Steve Holland.
After being appointed Crewe's Academy Director in 2007, Critchley joined Liverpool's Academy in 2013 and worked with both the U18 and U23 teams.
It was during the 2019-20 season that Critchley made headlines at Liverpool, standing in for Jurgen Klopp for Liverpool's EFL Quarter-Final fixture against Aston Villa.
With all of Liverpool's first-team away at the Club World Cup in Qatar, Critchley fielded a side with an average age of 19 and handing out 5 competitive debuts. Those involved included Caoimhin Kelleher, Ki-Jana Hoever, Sepp van den Berg and Harvey Elliott.
Critchley again took charge of Liverpool for an FA Cup Fourth-Round replay with Shrewsbury Town, winning 1-0.
Move into management and subsequent successes
In March 2020, Critchley was appointed manager of League One Blackpool.
In his first full season in charge, Critchley guided Blackpool to a 3rd place finish in League One and promotion to the Championship via the play-offs following a 2-1 win vs Lincoln City at Wembley Stadium.
After overseeing 45 wins from his 109 matches in charge of Blackpool, and boasting an impressive 41% win ratio, Critchley accepted the role of assistant manager at Aston Villa and was re-united with Steven Gerrard with the pair having worked together within Liverpool's Academy.
Whilst not necessarily a household name, Neil Critchley is highly regarded as a coach and is one of only sixteen coaches worldwide to obtain UEFA's elite badge.
We've seen before with Graeme Jones that not all good coaches are meant to be managers, but Critchley has a promotion and Championship experience on his CV, as well as a background in developing young players and working with limited resources.
In my eyes, there are not many more qualified to build on the foundations that have been laid over the last 2/3 years.