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.

Dear Dad…

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.

Character reference

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.

Next steps

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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The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.


  1. Lanterne Rouge
    December 29, 2010

    Football agent, like his brother?

    • theseventytwo
      December 29, 2010

      Quite possibly. Similar sort of thing to Roy Keane (which I forgot to mention in the article) – difficult to go from ruling the roost to scrabbling for points at the bottom of the Championship.

      Fair play to them both, they haven’t thrown their toys out of the pram, but I can’t see either wanting to make a career of it in League One or below, and still not convinced either of them are good enough as managers to manage any higher than that. Keane maybe. Ferguson, not convinced at all.

  2. John Verrall
    December 29, 2010

    I have to say I feel sorry for Ferguson. He took on a very tough job at Preston and it hasn’t worked out. It’s unlikely he will have the chance to go back to the Championship so, as you correctly suggest, he is now having to prove himself again.

    What he did at Peterborough (back-to-back promotion) is unlikely ever to be repeated, by anyone, and although you’re right in what you state about “The Trinity” being signed by Alexander he is the manager who they have thrived under. All three seem supportive of him too. Under Ferguson they were as potent as they have ever been as a trio they were, at times, unplayable. Nowadays Boyd is a shadow of his former self, McLean is about to leave and his partnership with Mackail-Smith, although the goal-scoring charts suggest differently, hasn’t been anywhere near as effective.

    We also have a stronger team, individually, this season than we did have with Ferguson yet whilst we are playing poorly and, fortunately, occupying a space in mid-table this season, we were flourishing under Ferguson last time round – many forget we finished ahead of the likes of Huddersfield, Leeds, Milwall etc to get promoted with a supposed “lesser” squad and a far smaller budget. His managerial credientials are questioned by Posh fans but I feel this is, partly, out of spite. He hardly left in circumstances that were ideal and it remains a controversial issue to this day.

    For me Ferguson did a fantastic job at Posh. As you say he has made some poor decisions in the transfer market but he did uncover the likes of Coutts (now at Preston), Lee, Whelpdale, Lewis and Zakauni and was at the helm of a Posh side that played some amazing football. Preston hasn’t worked out for him, unfortunately, but once he steps back down the leagues again I have no doubt he will succeed.

  3. DC96
    December 29, 2010

    Just a follow up to the tweet – think Keane has the persona and man management to succeed (although I accept a lot of ITFC people think the latter is missing). I think what lots of people like Keane and Fergie junior miss are progessive experience (as you allude to in the post) and also a steady hand on their shoulder. Sir Alex learnt his trade for 12 years split between 2 Scottish clubs that even then would have struggled in the English First Division. Even when he moved to United there wasn’t the wholesale movement of management and backroom personnel that you’d expect these days. Managers at the time moved in and the backroom and coaching staff were largely what you got.

    The problem with a lot of younger managers now is that there is the expectation at Prem and Championship level that they can bring in the complete package. Part of the expectation is with the individuals themselves. It’s unrealistic, and at most clubs, counterproductive to make too much change too quickly.

    On the transfer front the likes of PNE and ITFC don’t have the scouting networks or funds to make the killer signing but the fans expectations demand it. The demand for new signings leads to low level dabbling that too often is counter-productive – @robfreeman talks optimistically on Twitter about Keane bringing on the young players at ITFC as part of a long term plan, personally I believe it’s necessity and given a little bit of money we’d have more middle rate journeyman players at Portman Road. The best prospect for any Championship or low level Prem team to build towards success is stability, and not necessarily stability in league position. I

  4. Stanley
    December 31, 2010

    Both Keane and Ferguson should be capable of becoming decent Championship managers. As DC96 alludes to, they have lacked a little guidance so far. Ferguson, in particular, has made some good impressions at Posh and PNE: the already remarked ‘Trio’ and the eye-catching style of play instilled at London Road; witness also the resurgence of Jon Parkin this season as a small crumb of comfort for the Deepdale regulars. These are leavened, however, with the inexplicable banishment of Paul Hayes to a direct competitor and the failure to bolster shake defensive lines at both clubs. Dad has rather a big job of his own to worry about, but surely Ferguson fils can call upon the advice of one of his mates next time. For there will undoubtedly be a next time.


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