Sir Alex Ferguson has reacted to the sacking of his son Darren by Preston North End by recalling two of the Manchester United players who had been on loan at the club and starting a potential legal battle to make sure a third cannot play for them again.
Preston began their search for a new manager yesterday, with the club's chairman, Maurice Lindsay, praising Ferguson Jr for the "very dignified" manner in which he had accepted the news, but the United manager has reacted swiftly.
Ferguson has recalled the defender Ritchie de Laet and the striker Joshua King and has also made it clear he wants the England Under-20 midfielder Matty James to return to Old Trafford. The deals for De Laet and King were not due to expire until after the Bank Holiday double-header with Derby County and Crystal Palace.
"This has come as a shock to us and a bit of a blow," Lindsay, said today. "Ritchie de Laet and Joshua King won't be available for Saturday's game [against Derby] because we got a message from Manchester United this morning to inform us that they had been summoned back immediately and, under the terms of the agreement, they can do that.
"It's a big blow for us. These are two players, young and enthusiastic, who seemed to be enjoying it at Preston, so to be told by their parent club that they can't play for us again really is sad indeed."
Darren Ferguson had won only 13 out of 49 games but his father is friends with Preston's majority shareholder, Trevor Hemmings, through their love of horse racing, and is said by insiders at Old Trafford to be furious about the sacking.
De Laet and King were due to play in the next two games, whereas the 19-year-old James is on a season-long loan at Deepdale, where he has become an integral part of the team. All three have told Preston they would rather stay but Ferguson has ordered them back despite being aware that Preston's very future is at risk if they are relegated.
"It's unfortunate [with De Laet and King] but we recognise Manchester United's legal right and have to respect that," Lindsay said. "They have also suggested they would like Matty James back as well but it's a bit different legally and I will have to speak with David Unsworth [the caretaker manager] first. David being the tough, effervescent, confident character he is, he will deal with it.
"We are delighted David has agreed to take care of the club at a difficult time; it couldn't be in better hands."
Darren Ferguson was sacked with Preston bottom of the Championship, five points adrift of safety.
Lindsay added: "I was hoping this would never occur but when we're approaching the new year bottom of the league and with the future of the club itself in serious jeopardy if we are relegated, there clearly had to be some soul-searching and we had to tell Darren that for the sake of the club we needed a new manager. I went to his house for the sad task of talking to him and he was very dignified."
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