Mark Rankine was a stalwart at Preston North End, making over 250 appearances between 1996 and 2003.
He started out at Manchester United and despite not breaking into the first team at Old Trafford, he featured for Doncaster, Wolves, Sheffield United and Tranmere during an 18-year playing career in which he made over 700 league and cup appearances.
With Preston going well in the top half of the Championship and preparing for an FA Cup third-round clash with Arsenal, we caught up with the 47-year-old – who now works as a football agent – to get his thoughts on his former club and other current issues.
On Preston’s FA Cup tie against Arsenal…
“I think at home, under the lights, Preston will have to play really well and ride their luck to beat Arsenal but I definitely think it’s possible.
“They’ve got some key players such as Callum Robinson who can cause Arsenal some problems with his pace. He’s got great technique and an eye for goal so hopefully he can spearhead some strong attacking play from Preston.”
On what Preston need for a play-off push…
“I think it’s finances to be honest. Restrictions on the wage salary and what they can pay for players can have an effect on the transfer market. If you look at teams in the league currently, the top eight or nine clubs are all investing pretty heavily in players and Preston do not have the financial power to compete.
“Simon [Grayson] has done an unbelievable job with the club on a small budget. If they can consolidate their position and then get some more money in to the club then they can really have a good go and be around the play-offs.
“The teams who drop from the Premier League are heavily financed with parachute payments, so Preston have to be realistic and understand that if the team is fighting around the play-off spots then that’s a great achievement to compete with the heavy spenders.
“Even the likes of Brighton are spending big on players – having just bought a centre back for £4million at the beginning of the season. This sort of money is totally out of Preston’s reach.”
On upcoming fixtures against Brighton, Villa and thoughts on the season ahead…
“I think if they can ride the wave of the next few difficult fixtures then they can definitely get in to the play-off positions. The FA Cup game against Arsenal could be pivotal for the team’s performances in the next few games. If they can win, they’ll be buoyant and full of confidence to tackle those fixtures.
“Preston are a very organised team and as we’ve seen, having played in that league myself, organised and well-driven teams can climb the league very quickly. Newcastle are the standout team but other than that, there’s not much between those in the top half.”
On the key players for PNE for the second half of the season…
“First and foremost, the experienced players must lead by example and continue playing well in the second half of the season. Captain Tom Clarke (below) and Paul Gallagher are the key players for Preston because some of the players in the team, such as Ben Pearson, who was ex-Manchester United, Callum Robinson and former Villa player Daniel Johnson are still young and will need guiding.”
On predictions for the season…
“A top-half finish is a decent season, a play-off position would be an excellent season. If the team can get a run together then why not? The Championship is the sort of league where a good run of results can shoot you up very quickly.”
On Marcus Rashford (as a former Manchester United schoolboy himself)…
“Without a doubt, Marcus Rashford can be the type of player that elevates Manchester United. I saw Marcus play at under-15 level for England, playing centre-midfield, and he had unbelievable technique for a player of his age at the time. I think for 18 months he stagnated and since then it’s been remarkable.
“He’s being wasted out wide, as I think his best position is centrally but unfortunately with the talent that United have at the moment, he’s being forced out wide. He is so good he can be anything he wants to be.
“When all is said and done, we could be talking about Rashford in the same vein as we talk about Wayne Rooney for United. I think he’s at the perfect football club and has the right manager in Mourinho to reach the highest level and I know the family well, so they’ll keep him grounded.”
On Ryan Giggs as a manager…
“Unfortunately I left United schoolboys just before Ryan joined but he’s one of the most knowledgable players around with such a decorated career, so why can’t he manage the top clubs?
“Pep Guardiola managed Barcelona’s B team for one year, not even top flight, and then managed one of the greatest teams to ever play having only one year of experience under his belt and that didn’t work out too badly.
“I think he would have done a really, really good job managing United before Mourinho was targeted. He knows the fabric of the club. Someone has to take a chance on him and when you look at Swansea’s situation, they took a chance on two people (Guidolin and Bradley). One of those could easily have been Ryan Giggs.
“Bradley has over 30 years of managerial experience abroad but you could argue that Giggs has far more experience of the Premier League, knowing how it works, and would have been a better appointment. I think he could definitely take over at Hull or if not Hull, another struggling Premier League club.
“To get a stellar signing like Ryan Giggs, it will lift the club, the fans and it will immediately change the attitude. I also think he would attract a better calibre of player to the club he’s at – being the most successful Premier League player of all time.”
“With the budget and players they’ve got, they should be looking at automatic promotion from League Two. They’ve been doing really well this season and yes, they’ve had a couple of bad seasons, but they got a fantastic manager in Darren Ferguson who’s had plenty of success in a short managerial career, so I’m hopeful they’ll go up.”
“I think there’s been a lot of change at Wolves and they really need a period of calm now. The play-offs are too far out of sight for them this season but if they can finish mid-table and push on for next year with another very good manager at that level in Paul Lambert, then long term they’ve got a bright future.”
On the January transfer window…
“Generally a lot of the bottom-half teams will do a lot of business. The likes of Chelsea, United and the top teams will try and make one signing to improve the squad but won’t make any more. The problem is that with big clubs they go for big players so the deals are very complicated and do often take a fair amount of time so they are much more likely to happen in the summer than in January.
“The other factor is that clubs are very reluctant to get rid of their best players half way through a season and being unable to replace them, so I doubt any major moves will take place this month.”
“Palace will definitely spend big this month with Sam Allardyce in and new American owners desperate not to see the club get relegated. Swansea are another team to keep an eye on as they might invest again with Paul Clement in now. They are the two teams who I think will go and invest quite heavily this month.”
On players going to China…
“Almost certainly another player will join Oscar in China this month. With the financial clout over there, there will definitely be one, maybe two or three players joining out there.
“You can’t ignore the power of money in football and with their resources and the sort of wages they can offer players, as seen with Oscar and several others, it’s too much of a draw to ignore.”