One can only guess at Sir Alex Ferguson's reaction when he was told last week that his son Darren had been sacked by Preston North End but in my mind's eye it is like that scene in The Godfather when Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone is told that his eldest son Sonny has been shot at the toll booth by the Tattaglia family.
First there is disbelief. Then there is grief. Then Corleone decides to sue for peace, which is the point at which his story diverges from that of Sir Alex who, to put it bluntly, has very much gone for the revenge option.
Less than 24 hours after Darren's sacking, Sir Alex had called back Preston's on-loan Manchester United players Ritchie De Laet and Josh King early. Then it emerged that United were also looking into ending the season-long loan to Preston of midfielder Matty James. Preston's chairman, Maurice Lindsay, said he was "shocked".
Come Friday, Tony Pulis called back Stoke City's two loan players at Preston, Danny Pugh and Michael Tonge. Stoke insisted that they were simply covering themselves for a busy run of three games in eight days and no one will ever be able to prove otherwise. Curiously, neither Pugh nor Tonge were even on the bench for Stoke's win over Everton on Saturday
Already bottom of the Championship, Preston, without James in their team, lost at home to Derby County on Saturday, their 14th defeat of the season. They are now six points from safety and without four key players. Relegation beckons. Cue the Nino Rota soundtrack and the cutaway to the lone figure in his darkened office nodding with satisfaction.
You mess with one Ferguson, you mess with the whole family. The events of last week in the aftermath of Darren's sacking were a stark reminder of what happens to people when they displease Sir Alex. Ruthless? You bet.
Football can be a cruel business and no one will know that better than Darren Ferguson, who sadly finds himself out of work at a time of year when the rest of the world is clinking glasses and full of optimism. Yet one cannot help but feel that Darren has not been best served by his father's actions over the last five days.
It must be hard enough making your way as a coach when your dad is the most successful British manager of his generation and arguably of all time. Yes, the loan signings come in handy – Danny Welbeck was dispatched to Deepdale last season – but with the Ferguson surname there is no chance of being able to develop your career away from the spotlight.
By taking revenge on Preston last week Sir Alex may have reminded a struggling club who was boss – but what did it do for Darren? Once again, he was cast as his father's son rather than his own man. The message to any chairman who might consider employing Darren in the future was: you'll get United players on loan while my son is in a job but if you sack him – watch out.
After Preston lost to Middlesbrough on Wednesday, what turned out to be Darren's last game in charge, his response was phlegmatic. "As the manager, I've said many times that you have to take responsibility," Darren said. "There have not been enough wins. If someone were to decide they no longer wanted me here I suppose I couldn't have many complaints."
That does not sound like a man who thought that his record precluded him from the sack. As it turned out, Lindsay described Darren's response to being told he was dismissed as "very dignified".
Darren was generally regarded as having tried to set up a team that played decent, attractive football at Preston in a league that does not always reward the passing teams. Without the budget to compete with the top clubs in the Championship, keeping Preston competitive always requires a bit of a conjuring act.
But when you consider that his predecessor, Alan Irvine, was sacked almost exactly a year ago with his team in 16th place and eight points off the play-offs – having taken them to the play-offs the previous season – then, by that rule of thumb, Darren had been on borrowed time for a while.
Darren won two straight promotions in his first job with Peterborough United which marked him out as a young manager to watch and his sacking in November 2009 felt very harsh. He is inevitably asked about his father in every interview he does and answers with good grace but he must, like all managers, long for the day when he is judged on his own achievements.
Football, like so many businesses, is one that works on a system of strategic alliances, old loyalties, friendships and occasionally the premise that your enemy's enemy is your friend. In that context it is no surprise that Ferguson would wish to support his son with the loan of young United players, just as he has done so in the past with favoured former players of his who had become managers.
But if a battle needed to be fought with Preston then it needed to be fought by Darren who, the evidence suggests, had come to accept his fate at the club much quicker than his father did.
Sir Alex was, of course, once sacked himself, by St Mirren in 1978, and he did not take it well. Darren's reaction to his new year bad news suggests that – for all the upset it might have caused to his father – Ferguson Jnr is well capable of handling the ups and downs of life in the dugout.
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Once a good player in a great Manchester United team, now four months from his 36th birthday, Beckham's potential positive effect on the Spurs squad is cited as the key reason for them signing him. Yet Spurs are fourth in the table, in the knockout round of the Champions League and the most entertaining team in the country. Just a hunch, but their squad's spirit looks fine to me.
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Come Wednesday, Ramsey could be back in Arsenal's first-team squad for the first time since his double leg break in February. When we talk about 2010 being a bad year for the likes of Wayne Rooney, it does not really compare to the trials and tribulations Ramsey must have been through. Fingers crossed that he comes back as the same player.Reuse content