Manager moves: Darren Ferguson is the new old face at Peterborough United
Darren Ferguson returns to Peterborough United. It is a return that seemed almost unthinkable when he left the club and was appointed as the new manager of Preston North End. In the latest of his Manager Moves roundup, Mike Holden tracks the events that led to Fergie junior’s second shot with the London Road side.
Better the devil you know. That’s how Darren Ferguson summed up his decision to return to Peterborough barely twelve months after his fall-out with Darragh MacAnthony, but it appears to be a phrase that is mutually applicable. Before giving a blunt assessment of this most curious of appointments, let’s get one thing straight: the decision to part with Ferguson was ludicrous in the first place.
Having guided Posh up two divisions, he deserved a bit more patience in trying to get what was essentially a team carved out of non-league hopefuls up to Championship scratch. However, based on what has happened over those past twelve months, MacAnthony’s decision to swallow his pride has, if nothing else, demonstrated that being the son of Sir Alex Ferguson counts for a lot more than anything you might wish to stick down on a CV.
How else do you explain the Irish owner’s loss of face? Why suddenly admit to making a mistake about a manager who has subsequently shown little indication that he can cope with the demands of the next level? If MacAnthony was being wildly over-ambitious when sacking Ferguson last January, he is now lowering his sights considerably based upon what the last year has taught us.
This may come across as a damning appraisal of Ferguson junior, but the point being made is a valid one on behalf of all those young managers who have stalled after a promising start to their careers, the ones who remain ignored for much longer than two weeks at a time.
Perhaps the most striking comparison is that of Steve Tilson, a man who achieved everything that Ferguson has to date, albeit three years ahead of him. Now he finds himself trying to rebuild his reputation at the foot of the basement with Lincoln after succumbing to the kind of helpless circumstances that Ferguson will probably never experience.
Nonetheless, pride and prejudice aside, Peterborough’s decision to turn back to Ferguson is an understandable one. He is popular with the fans, as well he might be, and the short time the club spent under Gary Johnson proved just how difficult it can be to locate the right man at the right time.
Johnson seemingly had the credentials to be a success at London Road but, once in the dugout, the fit never seemed right, while you could also argue that he was only a shadow of himself without the trusty assistance of Keith Millen who is now recapturing the winning culture at Bristol City.
Indeed, Johnson’s fate was probably sealed long before his dismissal, possibly in the bizarre interview that followed the 3-0 defeat at home to Brighton in October. Down to ten men after barely half-an-hour, it was little wonder Posh barely got a kick against a side playing like champions.
Johnson’s assessment that he was considering his own position afterwards was a complete over-reaction and set the alarm bells ringing that something was seriously amiss behind the scenes. It sounded like a cry for help. So now Ferguson has returned with plenty in his favour. He already knows most of the players and all of the set-up, and he assumes control of a team that is underachieving.
And now that he has given up the sense of ego that prevented him from taking handouts from the old man in his early years, you suspect Peterborough will benefit from access to a string of talented Manchester United youngsters that Ferguson was so keen to avoid calling upon first time around.
Providing standards improve, Posh ought to be in with a good shout of making the top six come the end of the season. If they fall short, Ferguson can always blame the mess he inherited. If they reach the play-offs, it will be considered a relative success. If they get promoted, he will be hailed as a hero.
For now, Darren Ferguson is in a no-lose situation and if Peterborough do find themselves back in the Championship next season, they would be wise to stick by him whatever happens.