It has been one of the quieter football revolutions of the last decade – Peterborough United have, over the last couple of years, gone from being also-rans in League Two to being back in the Championship for the first time (if we gloss over the various name changes) for the first time since 1994. There is little doubt that much of this sudden rise has been largely due to the free-spending approach of Darragh MacAnthony. MacAnthony took control of the club in September 2006 and since then the club has spent over £2.5m in transfer fees and – just as significantly, considering the affect that they have had on the pitch – turned down massive transfer bids for players such as Craig Mackail-Smith and Aaron MacLean.
The manager for this period was, until earlier this week, Darren Ferguson. The son of Alex had taken the club to two successive promotions, but a dismal start to this season (at the time of writing they have won just two of their sixteen matches in the league so far) has been enough to do for him. After two successive promotions, it could be argued that Ferguson has cause to feel a little deflated by the division. Three months into the new season sees them at the bottom of the Championship table but they are hardly cut adrift at the bottom of the table at present and the transitional period required to bring in a new manager may cause yet instability at London Road.
It certainly sounds as if Darren has taken on some of the personality traits of his father. Earlier this week, The Guardian quoted an insider stating that Darren could be, “”stubborn, wilful and unwilling to admit to mistakes”, and hinted – not particularly subtly, in all honesty – that there had been a major breakdown in the relationship between MacAnthony and Ferguson. In the days since his departure, there have been concerted efforts on the part of Peterborough United to confirm that the parting of ways was “mutual” rather than a “sacking”. This suits MacAnthony quite neatly, as Ferguson signed a new, four-year contract during the summer and considering that the club that has been spending so heavily in the transfer market, they can probably seldom afford to pay off his entire contract.
It may also turn out to benefit Ferguson. He leaves Peterborough United with – gossip notwithstanding – his reputation having been greatly enhanced by his time in charge at the club, to the extent that the Daily Mail was linking him with the (not even vacant yet) Hull City job. The Premier League may yet come calling for him. Meanwhile, Peterborough United are left with the job of having to replace him. They have already been refused permission to speak to the AFC Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe by the club (although, of course, none of this means that this Howe won’t end up at London Road) and the most recent reports have Gareth Southgate, Peter Taylor and Steve Coppell down as the favourites for the job.
If that short list rings any bells, it’s probably because that short list formed many people’s top three for the until recently vacant Brighton & Hove Albion manager’s job. Brighton plugged their hole on Monday with confirmation that Gus Poyet has become their new manager. The new Brighton chairman Tony Bloom has a reputation as a gambler and there is an element of chance in offering the job to the previously untried Poyet. Having said this, however, something about Poyet seems to exude many of the right character traits required to be a manager. As their fourth manager in eighteen months, he can scarcely afford to be the wrong choice for the club.
One suspects that if Brighton hadn’t snaffled Poyet up, Peterborough might have been interested and the fact that they are looking at the same range of managers as Brighton – who are a division below them – says something about the rapidity of their rise. They may still be perceived by new applicants as a “lower division” club by potential applicants and a combination and the (untrue and unfair) belief that relegation from the Championship is a foregone conclusion is also allowed to take hold, this could damage them as well. It has to be said that for all the concern that Peterborough supporters may have about their club’s current league position, they have come a long way in a very short period of time.
Darren Ferguson, meanwhile, may be in a hurry to get himself a new job while the memory of those two successive promotions is still fresh in the mind of prospective new employers, and if the comments made this evening by Barry Fry, Peterborough’s agricultural Director of Football, are anything to go by, he will be back in work sooner rather than later. Would he have managed those two successive promotions without Darragh MacAnthony’s money, though? Possibly, but it would certainly be a stretch to imagine that, with all that money having been spent, that it was anything like all down to him. Having said that, however, less than six months into a four year contract and only just over a third of the way through the season seems like a rash decision, personality clashes notwithstanding. This “mutual” decision may turn out to be a high risk one for both Peterborough United and Darren Ferguson.