Alex Neil details five hour chat which led to Ched Evans signing for Preston North End

Preston North End manager Alex Neil with Ched EvansPreston North End manager Alex Neil with Ched Evans
Preston North End manager Alex Neil with Ched Evans
PNE signed the former Sheffield United and Man City striker in 2021

Ex-Preston North End manager Alex Neil has explained how he spoke to Ched Evans for ‘five hours’ before signing the striker.

The Lilywhites swooped in for the Fleetwood Town man in the January transfer window of 2020/21. It became a permanent move to Deepdale one month later - and Evans has gone on to score 16 goals in 99 appearances for Preston.

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At the time, though, his signing led to a huge backlash from PNE supporters and Neil - in an exclusive interview with the Lancashire Post - has now reflected on the decision to sign the centre-forward.

He said: “I didn’t treat it like any other signing at all. We needed, in my view, another forward at that point. We needed someone who could hold the ball up and lead the line, with a bit of physical presence, who could help the team. And obviously, we had limited budget to do that with. So, looking about, everywhere I could to get the right striker with the right pedigree, Ched became the obvious choice really - at the time.

“And then, what I did was contact Ched. I got him down to the training ground, literally sat with him and got him, basically, to tell me his story - so I had a good understanding of what happened from his perspective. Now, I am not daft, I understand there are going to be two sides to every story. But, I wanted to get - from his point of view - what happened, how it happened and all of that sort of stuff.

“Because, I needed to have an understanding of how much I could sort of protect him - or how much I couldn’t protect him, if that makes sense. And we had a really honest chat - we must’ve literally sat in there for about five hours, talking about everything. And to be honest, me spelling out to Ched as much as anything as well - about the perception, which he was naturally aware of anyway. The backlash, we spoke about everything.

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“But, ultimately, what I said to him was: ‘You are obviously telling me the truth and we are discussing this here - and I believe that you are the best signing for the club right now, in that role’. And also I think - I don’t know how it actually works so I am really being particular with my words here and don’t want to speak too specific - but it ultimately ended up that he didn’t get found guilty, shall we say.

“So, from that perspective, I am thinking ‘Well, if they didn’t find him guilty, I can’t find him guilty - that is not my position to be’. What I am judging him on is whether he can help the team and offer something towards the team - and I found him to be really good, in terms of speaking to him. I liked him as a character and thought he had a lot to offer. And, I think the fact Ched is still at the club now, shows you what people thought of him.

“So, I was fully aware of the backlash I would get and he would probably get. But, I think my time at Preston is probably summed by the fact that every hard decision that needed making - I made them all, because they were best for the team, not the best for myself. And I could’ve easily avoided that and made it easier for myself, but I didn’t.

“Because, in my opinion, it was the right decision. He had great pedigree, Ched - he scored goals for fun, coming through at Sheffield United. I think his lay-off was the biggest thing, in terms of how long he hadn’t played for. He went into Fleetwood, so it wasn’t as if we were the first club to take him. But, like I say, the decision was really based around it being the right thing for the team and the player being able to contribute.”

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