When Darren Ferguson embarked on a football management course at Warwick University he was slightly taken aback by the media module.
During a mock press interview his interrogator's every question concerned his father and, eventually, prompted a sharp retort. "Why are you doing this?" he asked. The reply came with a wry smile. "Because that's what you're going to get all the time," replied the tutor.
A few years have passed but the questions about Sir Alex Ferguson have barely abated and the 39-year-old Peterborough manager is now well versed in indulging his inquisitors. He accepts that his presence today on an Old Trafford touchline more usually patrolled by his father is likely to divert attention from the way in which his players perform on the pitch in their League One play-off final against Huddersfield Town. "It's an obvious angle to take, especially as the final is at Old Trafford," he says. "But if it takes the pressure off my players, that's fine by me."
Less than 24 hours after the Champions League final, cameras will inevitably train on Sir Alex as he watches his son's side from the stands but such diversionary focus seems a little unfair on Craig Mackail-Smith in particular. Peterborough's leading scorer has hit 34 goals this season and, freely admitting he will shortly leave London Road, is attracting interest from Norwich City and QPR.
If subduing Mackail-Smith represents Lee Clark's biggest conundrum, Huddersfield's 38-year-old manager is no stranger to either big matches or big names. The former Newcastle United, Sunderland and Fulham midfielder is becoming a much-admired young manager whose easy-on-the-eye "Yorkshire Invincibles" are unbeaten in 27 league games. Significantly, he has the ear of, among others, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and Pep Guardiola.
Having played against Guardiola – "I tracked him all over the Nou Camp but I didn't get many touches" – Clark more recently spent several days in Spain shadowing Barcelona's coach. His diligence and aesthetics have persuaded Wenger to loan him Benik Afobe, a highly promising 18-year-old striker destined to return to Arsenal following this afternoon's final.
Considering Clark's staff comprises a group of old friends from his Newcastle days that includes Terry McDermott, Steve Watson and Paul Stephenson it might be easy to imagine that Afobe found himself plunged into a latter-day episode of The Likely Lads.
Instead the years when Clark was affectionately seen as a "daft Geordie lad" who brought his Sunderland career to an abrupt end by wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "Sad Mackem Bastards" while cheering Newcastle on at the 1999 FA Cup final are now consigned to the past.
Visitors to the Galpharm Stadium have become accustomed to seeing Clark, Watson and Stephenson – if not McDermott – tapping away on laptops while ensuring they are fully au fait with the latest developments in sports science, scouting and psychology.
Not for nothing is Huddersfield's manager tipped for greater things but then so was Ferguson Jr until his career took a detour via Preston North End and he discovered what a game of snakes and ladders he had followed his father into. Sacked by the Deepdale club in December, the former Manchester United, Wolves and Wrexham midfielder returned to London Road where he had earlier led Peterborough from League Two to the Championship in successive years before departing under a cloud with the team bottom of the second tier in November 2009.
"I didn't expect to be in this position after starting the season at Preston so I'm very happy with the way things have turned out," Ferguson says. "Anyone who has experienced what I've been through would be keen to repair their reputation and I'm fortunate and grateful for this opportunity."
Huddersfield v Peterborough, 3pm, SS1This article was written by Louise Taylor, for The Observer on Sunday 29th May 2011 00.09 Europe/London
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