Sir Alex Ferguson will do anything to protect his sons. No news there. The question is – when does support turn into nepotism? For one, Jason, Ferguson has refused to speak to the BBC for six years. For another, Darren, Sir Alex delved first into Manchester United’s reserve squad then, with Ferguson junior’s sacking yesterday, senior turned off the tap.
Darren’s dismissal by Preston North End this week was with swift retribution by United today, whom ended the loan spells of Joshua King and Ritchie de Laet a fortnight early. Meanwhile, the club is actively seeking to end the season-long loan of a third United player, 19-year-old midfielder Matthew James.
Sir Alex’ patronage could hardly be more explicit. That three United players joined Preston simply to aid Sir Alex’ son was questionable in itself. The recall is a move that seeks neither to hide rank abuse of the loan system nor United’s youth policy, which is seemingly based not on the players’ needs but that of the Ferguson clan.
Preston chair Maurice Lindsay said that the recall surprised management at Deepdale, although United is within the terms of it’s contract with the Lancashire club. De Laet is on a short-term deal and King has a mid-season break clause, although James’ contract is different as the Bacup-born midfielder is due to stay with Preston until June.
“That has come as a bit of a shock to us and it’s a bit of a blow. Ritchie and Josh won’t now be available on Saturday,” Lindsay told North End’s website.
“We got a message from Manchester United that they have been summoned back immediately. Under the terms of the loan agreement they can do that, we recognise United’s legal right to do that.
“They would like Matty James back as well, but his contract is a bit different.”
Reports today indicated that United will seek to terminate James’ loan spell through legal means if necessary, such is Sir Alex’ anger at his son’s sacking after just 13 wins in 49 games for North End.
Not that the two immediate returnees have been a conspicuous success at Preston. Belgian defender De Laet has made five appearances for the Championship strugglers in the past two months, while striker King has scored just once in 10 games in all competitions.
James’ position is different though, with the talented England under-21 international a fixture in Ferguson junior’s side and clearly benefiting from regular football.
Realistically, with United out of the Carling Cup none of the trio will feature in the first team on recall and can only hope that another loan arrangement materialises in the January transfer window. Or Darren picks up a new job fast.
It’s not the first time Ferguson senior stands accused on nepotism of course. The Knight’s dispute with the BBC dates back to the broadcaster’s 2004 Panorama documentary, which ostensibly accused Jason – then an agent – of exploiting his father’s influence to sign United’s younger players to his agency books.
It was an accusation met with silence but neither denial nor legal action.
Thoughts of Cronyism aside, King, De Laet and James will genuine have cause to wonder whether United has their best interests at heart. After all Nicky Ajose has survived the dismissal of Brian Laws at Burnley and similarly Mame Biram Diouf remains at Blackburn Rovers despite Sam Allardyce’s controversial removal.
Of course, United has long since dispensed with any formal structure on transfers – permanent on temporary. Bébé’s acquisition in August is evidence enough of Ferguson’s continued ability of act on a whim, within the bounds of the Glazer family’s financial restrictions. It seems unlikely a call was made to Florida to sanction the loan recall.
The move also leaves Preston, struggling financially and five points adrift at the foot of the Championship, in serious trouble. Now under the stewardship of former Everton defender David Unsworth, Preston sacked Ferguson junior after the team picked up just 19 points this season.
“I was hoping this would never occur but when we’re approaching the new year bottom of the league and with the future of the club itself in serious jeopardy if we are relegated,” Lindsay told the Guardian.
“There clearly had to be some soul-searching and we had to tell Darren that for the sake of the club we needed a new manager. I went to his house for the sad task of talking to him and he was very dignified.”
After a second dismissal in as many seasons, junior has gone from the golden boy of lower league management to rebuilding a career now in tatters.
It’ll surely take more than his father’s patronage to fix this mess.