Soon after winning his 13th league title, Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager of Manchester United on May 8th 2013, praised and revered as being the country’s - and to some, the world’s - greatest ever manager. He won 38 trophies with his beloved Red Devils in an illustrious 27-year career, but was also renowned for his outspoken personality, particularly towards referees. Criticising match day officials on many occasions, there was a consensus that the Scot invoked fear in many of the men in the middle.
There was also the creation of the term ‘Fergie time’. This was the phrase used to describe the proportionally generous amount of added time United received when they were chasing a game, particularly at home. It seemed as if it was some sort of magic - he’d have a chew of his gum, quick tap of his watch, and his side would suddenly turn around a 1-0 deficit by scoring twice in the 92nd minute.
He left a lasting legacy in football that will remain largely unparalleled. This has left many wondering whether his achievements can be matched, or even if anyone could follow in his footsteps. In many ways, that latter question is still yet to be fully answered. Sir Alex retired gracefully, choosing to enjoy the perks of leisure and family time. He now spends much more of his time with his wife, Cathy and his three sons. One of those sons stands out.
Darren Ferguson was a Manchester United player for four years, winning a Premier League title and a Charity Shield in the progress, albeit without starting. His playing career rather petered out after that, so he ventured into management. Darren has never been a media darling or even a major talking point of English football. Yet, if footballers’ talent is genetic, who’s to say this is not the case with managers?
This season, Darren Ferguson has lead his Doncaster Rovers side to promotion to League One. This immediate promotion follows the relegation they suffered during his first season in charge, so this swift return will fill the club’s hierarchy with confidence in Darren’s ability. Thirty years ago, his father Sir Alex had just finished his first season as Manchester United manager, finishing in a lowly 11th place. They were knocked out in the fourth round of the FA Cup by Coventry City, who came one place and seven points ahead of them in the league. They were also eliminated from the League Cup 4-1 in a third-round replay by Southampton, who finished one place and four points below them that year.
This is the fourth time that Darren has been promoted as a manager in his ten years of management, whilst Sir Alex won the Premier League four times within the same amount of time. They have two very different career paths, and to compare the honours won by the pair would be simply unfair; Darren has never had two back-to-back seasons in the Premier League, whilst his father has never had two seasons back-to-back out of the Champions League. The difference between the two is clear as night and day, but even though Darren may never have the chance to match his father’s accomplishments, given the clubs he succeeds with, his own achievements will be amazing feats nonetheless.
Clubs Darren has managed, such as Peterborough United and Doncaster Rovers, may never play in Europe, so to win promotion will remain spectacular facts in their own way. Both Sir Alex and Darren have left imprints at their respective clubs, so although the trophies won are very different, the magnitude of success remains the same.
Sir Alex has always been eager in helping his son achieve as a manager. During Darren’s time at Preston North End, Sir Alex loaned his son three of United’s youth players: Joshua King, Ritchie De Laet, and Matty James. Within days of Darren’s sacking from the club, having won just 13 of his 49 games there, Sir Alex immediately recalled the trio, who were also some of the team’s key players; a subsequent factor in their relegation that year. Preston’s majority shareholder at the time, Trevor Hemmings, had a friendship with Sir Alex which was formed through their common love for horse racing, but insiders within Old Trafford suggested that he was incensed about his son’s sacking regardless.
There’s a slight - and this writer uses this term loosely - ‘pressure’ about being the son of one the most successful managers in football. Although Darren has never managed in the Champions League like his father, there are moments in his career that appear to channel his father; the need to grind out a result when it really matters, for example, or the ability to maintain 100% focus in crucial situations.
One memorable moment when the father and son were talked about was when Darren was in a relegation battle with his Peterborough United side. They knew a final day win over Crystal Palace would secure Championship status for another year, and in the build up to the game, Darren revealed that he doesn’t allow his father to come to games as “he’s a bit of a jinx”. Saying this in such a calm, relaxed manner, it was almost as if it was Darren telling rather than asking his father not to make an appearance. Sadly for Darren, Crystal Palace won the game 3-2 with an 89th minute header courtesy of Mile Jedinak, which ultimately sealed their play-off spot (and then promotion to the Premier League), and condemned Peterborough to relegation down to League One.
There will always be a lingering pressure of being the son of Sir Alex Ferguson whether Darren likes it or not, but he seems to have taken it in his stride.
Even from early on in his career, Darren has always seemed to have the same work ethic as his dad ingrained in him. His first managerial job came at Peterborough in 2007 where he was appointed player-manager, a sign that he carried the same hard-working ‘Ferguson gene’ as shown by his ability to complete fairly arduous tasks at once.
In his opening months with the Posh, he achieved a respectable 10th placed finish. During his first full season at the club, he led them to 2nd place, which saw them promoted to League One. He followed this up with a second straight promotion, with another 2nd place finish taking them to the Championship. This back-to-back promotion left the club in wonderland, but reality soon hit them hard, with Darren being sacked in November 2009 with the club rock bottom in the Championship.
Darren then began 2010 in the role of Preston North End manager. His time here was largely unsuccessful, with his FA misconduct charge and his father’s reaction to his sacking being his only memorable moments at the club.
In January 2011, Darren returned to Peterborough. He managed to guide the club to 4th place in League One in his first few months back at London Road, and saw his side beat Huddersfield Town 3-0 in the play-off final, with the venue none other than Old Trafford. They had a remarkable campaign, achieving promotion just a year after relegation, and they were also the top scoring team in the country, netting 106 goals in 46 league games.
They then spent two seasons in the Championship before a last-second goal condemned them to relegation. With the Posh sitting in 15th in League One, Ferguson resigned in February 2015. The latest chapter of his career has found him at Doncaster Rovers, where he has countered relegation in his first season at the club with an immediate promotion back to League One this season.
Darren may never reach the heights his father has, but if he can leave a positive impact wherever he goes, they’ll be no difference in the Fergusons in the fans’ eyes.
By Ham Mpanga. Header image credit goes fully to Lens Envy.