Fergie wouldn’t swap his squad for anyone else’s as he prepares for the weirdest of all seasons
He’s lost the best player in League One from last season, but Peterborough United manager Darren Ferguson insists his team are in a far better place now than 12 months ago.
That Posh squad preparing for the start of the 2019-20 season had Ivan Toney and a focussed Marcus Maddison, but Ferguson prefers what he has now, a settled squad with quality additions and all-round strength in depth.
“Of course I’d love to have Ivan Toney again,” Ferguson admitted. “But he’s gone and he deserved his move after busting a gut, as well as playing very well, for the club last season.
“And, anyway, compared to this time last season I honestly feel we are better off overall.
“Ivan was replaced quickly which was important and when Jonson Clarke-Harris is up to speed fitness wise I have no doubt he will prove to be a decent replacement.
“Defensively we can use a system that really suited us in the second half of last season from the start and we certainly don’t have the midfield issues now that we had 12 months ago.
“We tried all sorts of combinations and pairings, but with Jack Taylor and Reece Brown back together after impressing towards the end of last season we can be confident of starting the season strongly in that area.
“Ivan (and Sammie Szmodics currently) aside we have kept all the main players from last season and that was key.
“We wanted as little disruption as possible and we’ve achieved that.
“We did need to strengthen in some areas and we’ve done that as well.
“I’m very fortunate to work with owners who re-invest transfer money back into the playing squad.
“And we’ve recruited very well.
“I had three targets in mind to replace Ivan and Jonson was number one.
“He’s not a straight swap, but he brings plenty of physicality and pace which we will need to get us up the pitch when the passing game is not going well.
“And in my mind Ethan Hamilton is going to be an excellent signing for us.
“I’ve had my eye on him for a while. He’s played for struggling teams in League One and done well.
“He’s a good size. He can pass the ball well and he’s obviously had an excellent upbringing at Manchester United.
“His best position is without doubt in central midfield so we will see what develops there.
“Reece Brown was another big one to get over the line.
“I don’t particularly like loaning players, but it’s the only way we could get Reece because his wages are high.
“He will be worth the effort though. He goes about his work efficiently and I suspect he will be even better this season as he knows what we are all about.
“Ryan Broom is a player who fits perfectly into our system and into the high tempo style of play we like. He’s a bundle of energy and he’s been on our radar for a while.
“Ryan can finish well off either foot and he is an accomplished wing back as well as a skilled number 10.
“I also like the fact that Christy Pym will be under pressure for his place in goal because Dan Gyollai is an outstanding talent.
“Dan is great with the ball at his feet. He needs to work on some things, but Mark Tyler (goalkeeping coach) is confident he can improve him.
“And then there is Ronnie Edwards. He’s been exceptional in pre-season for a 17 year-old, so good I wouldn’t hesitate to pick him in the first-team.”
It is of course natural for a manager to rave about the players he’s signed, but Ferguson is not normally one to go overboard before a ball has been kicked.
But then these are unusual times. The confidence within the squad is underpinned by a steely motivation to carry out ‘Operation Vengeance’ (copywright Darragh MacAnthony) ruthlessly and efficiently.
Ferguson recognises dangers are lurking everywhere though and not just among the big hitters that are knocking around in League One this season.
“There are some huge clubs to play against,” Ferguson admitted. “But who knows how the issues of the last six months have affected everyone?
“What we can’t do is dwell on what happened last season. It’s an extra motivation, but that’s all.
“As far as promotion rivals are concerned I always look first at the clubs who have come down from the Championship.
“They will usually be big threats, but Wigan and Charlton have got so many problems off the field it’s hard to know what to expect from them.
“Wigan have lost some players, but their biggest loss will be the manager (Paul Cook).
“There hasn’t been a great deal of spending overall, but I do think Grant McCann has recruited wisely at Hull and I like the look of Blackpool.
“They have picked up some good players and they have a manager straight out of Liverpool which you imagine can’t be a bad thing!
“Other than that you have to think the bigger clubs like Sunderland, Portsmouth and Ipswich will challenge as will Oxford.
“I wouldn’t swap my squad for anyone else’s though.”
Other imponderables to throw into pre-season predictions is the sheer number of midweek games (a minimum of 11, but more if bad weather arrives or FA Cup and EFL Trophy runs are embarked upon) and the absence of fans.
“It’s going to be the strangest of seasons,” Ferguson added. “But we have to be focussed and professional in our work.
“Hopefully fans will be back in the grounds early in October because we do miss them. It was good to get a friendly game and a couple of cup matches behind closed doors in our stadium so we know what to expect.
“It was weird, but I guess we will get used to it. We have to.
“Squad depth is also going to be vital with so many midweek games to play.
“I’m pleased we were able to return earlier than most clubs as fitness is going to be a major weapon this season.
“Every year we say everyone will contribute, but that will more true than ever this season.
“Part of my job will be to manage the players well in terms of knowing who needs a break and when.
“We’re lucky we have two good players for all positions, but it really could be a survival of the fittest this season.”