The loan system is, for young Manchester United players, an invaluable step on the road to challenging for a squad place.
This season, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Mame Biram Diouf are all making an impact elsewhere in the Premier League, while David Beckham, speaking after his recent (if perhaps a touch premature) BBC Sports Personality Of The Year Lifetime Achievement Award, gave a shout out to Preston North End, for whom he made 5 appearances in 1995.
Which is why it was intensely dispiriting to learn that Richie de Laet and Joshua King have been recalled from Preston, in direct response to the sacking of Darren Ferguson, son of Sir Alex. It appears that United are also looking into the legal possibilities of terminating Matty James’ season-long loan.
It is a decision devoid of any kind of footballing justification. De Laet and King were due to return after Preston’s New Year schedule; what urgent business requires them back at Carrington a week early? And James has signed for a season; has the plan for his development changed? The answers, patently, are “none” and “no”. This is straightforward patronage, furious father on behalf of sacked son, and it is an act of exceptional pettiness.
The suspicion that Sir Alex views Manchester United as his personal fiefdom is ever-present and, on the whole, to United’s benefit; after all, the interests of a football club and the interests of the manager largely coincide. But where they don’t, there is a pattern of self-interest trumping club concerns: a season written off while Sir Alex pursued half a horse through the courts; the failure to oppose the Glazer takeover; the long-running, ludicrous boycott of the BBC. Now we have the prioritisation of family honour over the development of three Manchester United footballers, all of whom are reportedly keen to stay at Deepdale.
The role of the manager is serve the club, and to serve the interests of the club, not to misappropriate or misdirect the resources of the club for his own ends. The termination of the loans is a shabby act that shames the very institution Sir Alex was appointed, all those years and titles ago, to represent. There can be no doubting his ability as a manager, but by utilising the club as an instrument of personal vengeance he has shown us, once again, where his true loyalties lie.
For all the silverware, and for all the glory, Sir Alex does not walk the Busby way.