Neil Baker: Crewe Alexandra stalwart to rejoin Leek Town after 23 years

By Robin GreyBBC Radio Stoke Kick-Off reporter
Steve Davis and Neil Baker
Steve Davis, sacked in January, was the fourth of the five bosses Neil Baker (right) worked with at Crewe

Crewe Alexandra's Neil Baker is to end his 23-year spell with the Cheshire club to return to his former side, non-league Leek Town, as manager.

The 63-year-old has twice managed Leek before, taking the team to the FA Trophy final at Wembley in 1990.

It was former Alex boss Dario Gradi who first tempted him to Crewe in 1994.

"I've enjoyed my time at Crewe. It's hard to leave but it wasn't a difficult decision to go back to Leek, because that's what I wanted," said Baker.

"It's a club set up to go higher. That's our job - to try to push the club on and that was the biggest reason for coming back."

Baker leaves behind a good legacy at Crewe, having served as assistant manager, caretaker manager and in his final role of head of recruitment.

Dario Gradi, Steve Holland and Neil Baker
Crewe's best days in the Championship came under the backroom team of Dario Gradi (left), Steve Holland (centre) and Neil Baker (right)

Crewe manager David Artell told BBC Radio Stoke: "I still don't want Neil to go. I'd love him to be here for the next five years.

"He's been the mainstay. He's kept everything ticking along in the background at the club. He's been exceptional for football, full stop."

Baker will remain in his role with Crewe until the summer transfer window closes on 31 August.

In the meantime, he will oversee part-timers Leek's new season in the Evo-Stik League Division One South - the eighth tier of England's football pyramid - which starts with an away game at Alvechurch on 12 August.

He's almost completed the circle - Holland

Baker has worked with five different managers at Crewe, including England assistant manager Steve Holland when he was in charge at Gresty Road from July 2007 to November 2008.

Holland - who has since spent the past eight years working at Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benitez, Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Antonio Conte - labelled Baker "ahead of the game" in his recruitment.

"To have a team capable of surviving at Crewe's level, you have to try to get those players who make a difference," he told BBC Radio Stoke. "Neil's got a great history of doing that."

Players such as Port Vale striker Tom Pope, Sheffield United defender John Brayford and Burton Albion forward Luke Varney were found in non-league football by Baker, and then sold on to earn Crewe fees in the region of £3m.

Baker's only regret was missing out on Che Adams and Marc Roberts - two players who have both since signed for Championship side Birmingham City for a combined total of more than £5m.

Robbie Savage
Robbie Savage has completed the long journey from Crewe midfielder to BBC football pundit

Baker believed in me - Savage

Former Crewe, Leicester, Birmingham, Blackburn and Wales midfielder Robbie Savage, now a BBC pundit, is in no doubt about Baker's influence on his football education.

"Without Neil Baker, I don't know if I'd have had the career I had," Savage, 42, told BBC Radio Stoke.

"There were times when I felt like giving up, that I wasn't good enough," added Savage, who made 77 appearances in his three years with the Alex.

"But he was always the one who believed in me."

Leek chairman happy to get his man

Leek chairman Jon Eeles has brought Baker back as manager following the departure of previous boss Ant Danylyk in May.

"Everyone felt Neil was a done deal," said Eeles. "I can assure you it wasn't.

"Neil's an experienced manager. He's extremely hard working and very professional.

"I think it's going to be a competitive league again. We want to return to a play-off place."

Neil Baker
Neil Baker had been running neighbours Leek CSOB when he first joined Leek Town in 1986

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