There’s something about Sir Alex Ferguson’s nepotism that is both enduring and utterly shameless: from BBC accusations that the Manchester United manager pressured young players into signing with agent son Jason, to the recent loans of young players to whatever club manager son Darren is running, and conveniently arranged friendlies.
So it continues, with Red youngsters Ryan Tunnicliffe and Scott Wootton this week joining Championship outfit Peterborough United for the next six months. If history is repeated the pair may well not be the last United kids to end up at London Road this season.
Tunnicliffe, 18, last season’s United Young Player of the Year, has signed immediately, with 19-year-old Woootton joining the midfielder at Posh’s Portuguese training camp before officially signing forms in July.
“Ryan is obviously an up and coming player at Manchester United. He was very inspirational in helping to win the FA Youth Cup,” said Darren Ferguson.
“He has a very good pedigree and we feel that he is ready to step up and play in the Championship. He is a tenacoious, box-to-box midfielder and this move works well for him and obviously works very well for us. I am delighted to have him on board and look forward to working with him.”
Peterborough will play in the Championship next season after earning promotion from League One via the play-offs in May, following Ferguson Jr’s return to the club in January. The 3-0 victory over Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford earned the club a third promotion in the last four seasons.
Yet junior has suffered several ups and downs in a fledgling managerial career. The promotions with Poshwere tempered by a dramatic sacking at Preston last December. Near the foot of the Championship, North End chairman Maurice Lindsay terminated the 39-year-old coach’s contract a year into the job.
Old Traffor’s reaction was seemingly swift and brutal, with senior reportedly demanding the early and immediate end to the loans of Joshua King and Ritchie de Laet. Due to contractual terms of a third United player, Matthew James, the midfielder did not return to Old Trafford for another fortnight.
“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 at the time.
“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.”
Senior later claimed that the players requested to not remain at Deepdale after the change of manager, although the explanation took nearly a month to arrive. Suspicion of senior’s power to affect Deepdale grew after former United academy players Danny Pugh and Michael Tonge were recalled from loan by parent club Stoke City almost immediately after junior’s sacking. That Stoke manager Tony Pulis resides in Sir Alex’ inner sanctum of managerial friends only adds to the curiosity.
“I spoke with the owner, Trevor Hemmings, with whom I have a good relationship, and explained that the players did not want to go back,” said Ferguson of the abrupt recalls.
“Our reserve team coach, Warren Joyce, spoke to me about it. We decided that the players should go to training that day and we would discuss it later. We decided that if the players did not want to go back there was no point in them being there.”
Yet, there has been more than one accusation of nepotism when it comes to the Ferguson family. The Knight’s dispute with the BBC – he has spoken to or on the corporation’s channels on a very few select occasions – dates back to the broadcaster’s 2004 Panorama documentary, which ostensibly accused Jason of exploiting his father’s influence to sign United’s younger players to his agency books. The Beeb’s accusation has been met with silence but no legal action.
Neither is Darren free of controversy after admitting in April 2008 to assaulting his estranged wife in the driveway of Sir Alex’s Wilmslow home. Junior changed his plea to guilty after initially denying the charge and was fined £1,500. The younger Ferguson is now regularly subjected to terrace abuse about the incident.
Whatever the reasons for this week’s loans – surely only the most myopic of United supporter can claim anything bar nepotism – Wootton and Tunnicliffe may will benefit from first team action if Posh can start the season in some semblance of early season form.
Following the 2008/9 promotion from League One Peterborough’s limited budget and inability to invest in new talent resulted in Ferguson leaving Peterborough “by mutual consent” in November 2009, with Posh bottom of the table and heading for relegation. Senior later claimed to have told his son to leave Peterborough that summer.
Tunnicliffe and Wootton will hope for a brighter start this time around. Anything else and junior will be on the end of a third P45 in as many seasons. Either that or a rash of new United kids to play with.