Could Preki Become the First Premier League Manager?

The former Sacramento coach is linked to Leicester City
by Ray Marcham   |   Saturday, July 11, 2015

There is a chance that American soccer history may possibly be made soon, and the possibility has caught almost everyone by surprise.

It was announced on Wednesday that Preki will be leaving the USL’s Sacramento Republic after Saturday’s match against LA Galaxy II. He said at the press conference that he would be taking a job in the UK, though he couldn’t say which job at that time.

The job he has been connected with is at Leicester City in the Premier League, possibly replacing Nigel Pearson as manager. In fact, odds makers in England have slashed the odds of Preki taking the Leicester managerial job, dropping him to 10/11 to be the next LCFC boss.

He isn’t the only one being linked with LCFC. Friday reports had the Foxes gaining interest in Martin O’Neill, the current Irish national team coach. O’Neill is still much beloved in Leicester, having managed the Foxes from 1995-2000 before moving on to Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland. In his time at LCFC’s former ground, Filbert Street, he led the Foxes to promotion to the Premier League and two League Cups, often with a young goalkeeper named Kasey Keller between the sticks.

But if Preki (or O’Neill) is hired at Leicester, he would be taking over a club that is in a bit of a chaotic state. Pearson was fired by the Foxes last week after disagreements between him and the club board. Speculation that an incident on Leicester City’s tour of Thailand involving Pearson’s son, James, also fueled the change of managers is also out there. And the Premier League season is a month away.

This is what the former Sacramento manager will be stepping into. He would have to win over LCFC supporters, who already have their doubts about this Serbian-born American many have never heard of before.

Many soccer fans in the US are also stunned by this turn of events. After all, it was supposed to be Bill Bradley who would be the first American to manage in the PL. That was the general consensus, and he had been connected with PL clubs in the past (Aston Villa most notably).

But, Preki? He’s had mixed success as a head coach. He did lead Chivas USA to its only first-place finish in 2007, but left after the 2009 season after the Goats had been eliminated in the conference semifinals in all three of his seasons in charge. He was then hired by Toronto FC in 2010, but was sacked before the season ended. He did lead the Reds to the 2010 Canadian Championship, qualifying them for the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League.

After being out of coaching for a while, he was hired in 2013 as the first coach of Sacramento Republic FC, a USL expansion team that would start play in 2014. SRFC won the USL title in their first season, and are in a first-place tie with Colorado Springs in the USL Western Conference.

There is Preki’s playing career, as well. He’s still greatly beloved in the Puget Sound region as one of the stars of the old Major Indoor Soccer League’s Tacoma Stars, playing with MISL legend (and fellow Yugoslav ex-pat) Steve Zungul and leading the Stars to the 1987 MISL Final, losing in 7 games to Dallas.

He bounced around after that, including playing with Everton in the Premier League from 1992-94 and with Portsmouth in the First Division (now the Championship) in 1994-95. He played in MLS for 10 years after that, first with Kansas City, then Miami, then back in Kansas City before retiring in 2005.

In the midst of that, Preki became an American citizen in 1996. He then played for the US men’s national team from 1996-2001, scoring 4 times and getting his last cap at the age of 38.

So, his playing background is stellar. His success as a coach in MLS has been mixed, but that he turned Sacramento into a champion in their first season was impressive. However, USL is a third division league, and on the surface, his resume doesn’t look like one that would make him a candidate for a Premier League job.

But never underestimate the whims of an owner of a professional sports team. Leicester’s chairman/owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, has taken a chance before with a managerial hire, with success. He brought Pearson back (he managed Leicester City from 2008-10) after Sven-Goren Eriksson left in 2011, and Pearson steadied LCFC’s fortunes. He led them to the Premiership in 2014 after winning the Championship title, and then orchestrated the “great escape” that led the Foxes from the bottom of the league to staying up with ease.

Once the news came out connecting Preki with Leicester City, there was disbelief in many quarters. Some thought he was being connected with Sheffield Wednesday, as Preki is friends with former SWFC chairman (and former Leicester City chairman) Milan Mandaric. But the Owls already have a new manager, having hired Carlos Carvalhal at the end of June. So that connection makes no sense, unless Preki was to be hired as an assistant coach.

If Leicester City does hire Preki as manager, it would be one of the more shocking appointments in the Premier League’s 20-plus year history. It would also be a major moment in American soccer history, one that no one was expecting to happen at this time.

We’ll know soon enough.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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