Neil Critchley, former Blackpool manager, has officially been re-positioned as head coach of the first team after their recent and unfortunate demotion to League One from the Championship, after a two-season stay.
Just to recap, Critchley is currently just the young age of 44, and his most recent spell with Blackpool led to their League One play-off success in 2021, where they had initially finished 3rd behind Peterborough in 2nd and 1st place Champions Hull City.
Neil left the club in June 2022 to join Premiership side Aston Villa as part of Steven Gerrard's coaching staff. Gerrard's sacking from Villa in October last year also led to the departure of Critchley and it weren't long after before QPR in the Championship came knocking. This current season, Neil coached just 12 games as QPR boss, unfortunately securing just one victory before his dismissal in February.
In an interview with the club, Critchley has expressed a lot of excitement about returning to Blackpool, stating that it felt special to be back. He also admitted that he did not handle his departure from the club properly a year ago and expressed gratitude to owner Simon Sadler for granting him the opportunity for his return.
Critchley has emphasized that although the club had encountered prior difficulties, there was no reason they couldn't regain footing and power on in the next football league campaign. He believed it was the collective responsibility of everyone, to reset and restore the team's previous cohesion and success.
Stephen Dobbie, who temporarily took charge as the first-team manager after Mick McCarthy's departure in April, will now resume his role as the senior professional development phase coach. Unfortunately, Dobbie was unable to prevent Blackpool's relegation, as they finished in the 23rd position in the Championship after a hard battle against a playoff fighting Millwall-side.
Critchley's initial impact during his first spell at Bloomfield Road was evident, despite it being his first managerial position after primarily serving as a development coach at Liverpool. Taking over from Simon Grayson in March 2020, Critchley guided the Tangerines to a mid-table finish in League One. He subsequently rebuilt the squad and achieved promotion in the following season, but during this successful period, the arrival of Jerry Yates from Rotherham yielded 20 goals, while Keshi Anderson and Marvin Ekpiteta established themselves as regular first-team players. Blackpool's third-place finish in the league and their victory in the play-off final against Lincoln propelled them back into the Championship. Additionally, the signing of Josh Bowler, a winger from Everton, proved to be a shrewd move, as he played a crucial role in helping the team retain their Championship status. Bowler later joined Nottingham Forest in the Premier League for a fee of roughly £4 million.
Sadler, the owner of Blackpool, expressed his confidence in Critchley's capabilities and decision-making. Sadler stated that after an extensive recruitment process, which involved numerous interviews and numerous candidates, he repeatedly recognized Critchley as the man to lead the team forward through what looks to be a difficult Sky Bet League One campaign next season, with the likes of Reading, Wigan Athletic, Bolton, Derby County and more - all looking to secure top six. Which now begs the question: With Critchley's most recent form in his association with Aston Villa, and his stint with QPR in the Championship, with a struggling side that appeared to be playing at the standards of League One at the back end of the season - is he the right man for the job? Understandably it was a long process to draw Critchley out the hat and for the decision to be made official, however that does not necessarily make it the correct decision in the eyes of the fans. There would of been a huge trust and bond created between Critchley and the Seasiders in the rebuild and playoff winning season, however to reflect on his work over the past few seasons, as an outsider, it is difficult to believe there isn't at least a little scepticism with this re-appointment. After browsing through some of the tweets on Blackpool's hashtag, we have found a few interesting comments regarding Critchley's return... @ChrisP210875 on Twitter ran a poll, with the exception of our vote for giving Neil another shot, the vast majority are happy and willing to give him a chance, with at least 20.1% of those Twitter users not being happy with his return...
But as we continued looking on, we seemed to have found more and more tweets contradicting these votes, as the Tangerine fans were able to be honest and express the reality of Critchley's previous stint: @OffTheLineBlog commented that there are different views to how Neil exited Blackpool last year, backed up by the following tweets from Brett33D and @BFCsmithy on Twitter.
Which just about summarises how the fans are feeling at the moment, as predicted - very sceptical of whether it is the right decision, but we get the idea that the Seasiders understand that with long-term planning and the owners backing Critchley financially through the upcoming transfer windows, then top six if not autos could be within their grasp. A big rebuild is needed, but as per their retained list published last week, it appears there may not be any other option. Six of their loanees return to their parent clubs, four player contracts are due to expire without renewal, and a total of eight players have decided against exercising contract extensions with the club. This does however put Critchley in the driving seat for a complete rebuild in League One next season. He has done it before, surely he can do it again for the Seasiders. Whether this means bouncing right back up into the Championship or sitting comfortably mid-table, it is yet to be seen, but it hard to believe that with this appointment Blackpool won't find some form of success in the upcoming League One season.