After Preston North End, where next for Darren Ferguson?
Preston North End have sacked manager Darren Ferguson after less than a year in charge at Deepdale. Perhaps Darren was never destined to follow his father’s footsteps and manage Manchester United, but he is still a football manager trying to make a living. So, in light of his latest setback, where next for Darren Ferguson?
As early as August 17th, his card was marked.
Some managerial appointments are made through the employment of plain old common sense. Tony Mowbray’s return to Middlesbrough, for example, ticked an awful lot of boxes. Mowbray was popular at Boro during his playing career, he is recognised as a successful second-tier manager due to his promotion record with West Bromwich Albion and he also happened to be available when Gordon Strachan’s time at the Riverside drew to a natural conclusion.
Boro’s most recent victims, Preston North End, are now scouring the market themselves after ditching Darren Ferguson in a bid to beat the dreaded drop. Out with the old, in with the New Year and a new man at Deepdale. Ferguson, without Mowbray’s track record at Championship level or any connection with his new club, failed to convince he was the right man for the job when appointed at Preston.
The future quickly becomes the past in these days of social media and round-the-clock reporting. So there seems little point in speculating as to Ferguson’s successor. He is probably already 140 characters away from being revealed as these words are being typed. Instead, let’s look at Ferguson himself.
It would be folly to continue without reference to the elephant in the room, Ferguson’s famous father and the man responsible for the infamous footsteps that his son follows in. Sir Alex has been useful in the most obvious sense, lending a promising talent or two along the way. He must also have offered advice and a guiding hand from afar. But this was never going to be enough. Sir Alex is the archetypal complete football manager. Huge footsteps to follow and gigantic boots to fill in terms of the expectations of football supporters.
Darren Ferguson’s two successive promotions with Peterborough United always felt like a bit of a red herring. First League Two defences, and then very quickly their League One counterparts, quaked with fear at the thought of facing Posh’s Holy Trinity – George Boyd, Aaron McLean and Craig Mackail-Smith – and Ferguson went from being a rookie League Two manager to one who was firmly in the media spotlight.
But he didn’t buy any of those players. The sadly departed Keith Alexander did. Darren Ferguson looked like a manager who could get the best out of players and play attractive, attacking football against inferior opposition. However, this never lasts forever outside of the elite. Perhaps his most damaging failing, Ferguson’s record in the transfer market is questionable at best.
Sir Alex has bought one or two duds in his time. Kleberson. Eric Djemba-Djemba. Massimo Taibi. This is another red herring. Manage a high-profile club for a quarter of a century and you are bound to get a few transfers wrong every now and then. Sir Alex is in complete control at Manchester United and no single personality will win a jostle for supremacy with him at Old Trafford. Just ask Jaap Stam. In today’s climate, only the very best will survive long enough to reach a similar status at a Football League club.
Darren unquestionably shares his father’s bullishness, but this appears to act as a double-edged sword in the lower leagues. Without the world’s media to play to, any manager who grows too big for his boots will swiftly be put in his place by his own supporters as soon as results take a turn for the worse. In other words, in League Two no-one wants to hear you scream.
The Holy Trinity on the pitch at London Road was mirrored by a rather unholy one in the positions of power. Alongside Ferguson, the twin threat of chairman Darragh MacAnthony and Director of Football Barry Fry. For two years, while the football was all going to plan, the ramshackle relationship seemed to work. At the first sign of Posh being in a division containing a long list of much better teams, though, it all fell apart.
So Ferguson had things to prove, both in the transfer market and in the way he handled himself. On 29th December 2009, an opportunity was presented.
Preston come calling
Alan Irvine had got the Preston North End job in one of the other ways that this kind of thing happens. He had, like current Hull City manager Nigel Pearson and former Newcastle United boss Chris Hughton, done an apprenticeship as an assistant manager at a Premier League club. Irvine had learned his trade at Everton under David Moyes and soon put it into practice in impressive fashion.
Preston were rejuvenated under his stewardship and the Scot looked a good bet to go one better than his compatriot Billy Davies and propel the Lilywhites into the Premier League. But one poor run of results and, like Ferguson at Peterborough, he was history.
For a more rounded snapshot of the time, you can try this Paul Fletcher article for size. For a comparison, take a look at this Louise Taylor piece about Ferguson’s exit from London Road. Eerily similar.
Ferguson pitched up at Deepdale and he inherited a similar job in some ways to the one he left for Mark Cooper, Jim Gannon and Gary Johnson. Peterborough, despite the eventual appointment of an accomplished Football League manager in Johnson, are still recovering from their fall back to League One. On 29th December 2010, Preston North End sacked a manager in an attempt to prevent their own relegation to the third tier.
One year on from Irvine’s departure, Ferguson has left the North West and will move on in his managerial career. As some Preston supporters may have thought when they picked up a promising young manager for nought last winter, there might be a fanbase waiting to welcome him with open arms.
But don’t expect Sir Alex. Like those forgotten names of yesteryear Rhodri Giggs and Joel Cantona, Darren Ferguson is a lesser light trying to make his way in the shadow of a Manchester United legend and it would do him good to iron out his flaws as far away from his father as possible. Away from the North West. Away from the top two divisions of English football. Time to prove himself all over again.
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