After Sunderland's inevitable fate was sealed at the weekend, thoughts immediately turned to whether David Moyes was the right man to lead them back up.
The former Manchester United boss has stated that he is yet to make a decision with regards to his future on Wearside, so the club will no doubt be drawing up a list of potential replacements regardless. The standard out of work managers are of course likely to top the list, with the likes of Alan Pardew and ex-Black Cats boss Roy Keane among them, but here are five alternatives that could be of interest, ordered by the likelihood they could be tempted by what is a pretty daunting proposition.
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Out of work since following a brief stint at Derby County that ended in his departure by mutual consent, Nigel Pearson may well emerge as the favourite for the Sunderland hot seat should Moyes vacate it. While his record with the Rams will no doubt unsettle the fans, he has the experience of guiding a club to a title-winning campaign in the Championship, and a dominant one at that.
Though Derby struggled offensively under Pearson's tutelage at the start of the season, they still boasted one of the league's strongest defensive records, which in the unpredictable second tier is often more than half the battle. If it's organisation and a kick up the arse Sunderland's hierarchy desire — for the players that is — then the former Leicester boss is understandably a favourite. Whether they want the off-field issues that have blighted Pearson's recent managerial career is another matter.
Similarly to Pearson, Alex Neil is out of a job following a disappointing return to the Championship but he too has a promotion from a league renowned for being difficult to escape from on his CV. Still just 35, the ex-Norwich city man certainly shouldn't be written off just yet despite seeming to lose the dressing room at Carrow Road, particularly given the wonders he worked upon his appointment.
Neil was given the job at the turn of the year in 2015 with the club three points off the play-offs. 15 wins and just 3 defeats in 22 matches saw the Canaries finish just three points short of automatic promotion in third. It's that sort of immediate impact that Sunderland would surely need in order to bounce back at the first time of asking. Another angry looking Scotsman at the helm would also represent something of a seamless transition for the players!
While this season has ended in bitter disappointment, it's certainly been a restorative one for Garry Monk's reputation, although most felt that he was somewhat harshly treated at Swansea. To last so long under the rule of Massimo Cellino is no mean feat after all, but while the trigger happy owner has sold 50% of his stake in the club to compatriot Andrea Radrizzani, there is still plenty of pressure on the incumbent of the top job at Elland Road. It's led to speculation that the 38-year old will lose his job in the summer, and Sunderland may well be monitoring the situation.
After all, while Monk may not have met the expectations of Leeds United's demanding owners, he's arguably exceeded realistic ones with the players at his disposal. He's had a young squad to deal with and has led Leeds to seventh, eclipsing last season's points haul by 11 with a game remaining. While Chris Wood has been a hugely reliable source of goals, and Rob Green along with the centre-back pairing of Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson provide a solid base, elsewhere it's not a group packed with great quality. Monk has got the most out of his experienced spine to boast a strong defensive record and has certainly got his players fighting for him, averaging more tackles per game than any other team (18.8).
A manager who made a similar instant impact to Alex Neil as far as results are concerned, Paul Heckingbottom is emerging as one of the country's brightest young talents, not only steering Barnsley to the Championship via the League One play-offs last season but cementing their status in difficult circumstances this time around.
Guiding the club to 13 wins and just 3 defeats in 21 games as caretaker manger in the second half of last season, 39-year old Heckingbottom was deservedly handed the role full time following promotion.
However, after his side was gutted of its prized assets over the course of the season, with Alfie Mawson, James Bree, Sam Winnall and captain Conor Hourihane all sold, it would be a surprise if he wasn't a little disillusioned.
Regardless he has secured a mid-table finish for the Tykes, encouraging an offensive brand of football that has seen just Newcastle United and Fulham average more shots per game in the Championship this season (13.9), which would appeal to fans that have seen very little attacking intent from their side this season.
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A long shot for sure, but if Sunderland were to aim for something of a managerial coup, attempting to persuade Slaviša Jokanović to make the move north would fall into that bracket. The Serbian's future will likely rely on Fulham's success or failure in the play-offs but, while everything has been hugely encouraging on the field at the club, the manager has taken issue with the club's hierarchy after owner Shahid Khan appointed his 34-year old son Tony as Director of Football Operations earlier this year, giving him a crucial say in the club's transfer dealings.
It's caused something of a fractious relationship that has made Jokanović's position a little less stable and should he lose patience then a raft of clubs will take an interest.
The former Chelsea midfielder left Watford in similar circumstances having earned promotion with the Hornets, and his record of fostering attractive, possession based football is a huge draw. While it took a little time for Fulham to string results together this season they've been among the strongest sides throughout and lead the league for goals scored (83), shots per game (15.4), possession (59%) and pass accuracy (83.6%).