FERGIE GAVE MATTY BIG TIME TASTE
Aweek after Sir Alex Ferguson finally bid fairwell to the Premier League, one of the departing Manchester United manager’s many protégés is hoping to clamber his way back into the big time.
Lancashire lad Matty James joined United as a schoolboy, rising through the ranks to skipper the reserve and U18 sides.
Yet while he would follow in the footsteps of David Beckham and Danny Welbeck with a loan spell at Preston, the 21-year-old never quite made the grade and left to join Leicester in May 2012.
Even so, the midfielder still treasures the time he spent under Ferguson’s tutelage and the lessons learned are now helping fire the Foxes to promotion.
“Even at my age, I never thought I’d see the day that he would leave,” admits James, who has scored four goals in 28 games for Leicester this term. “Manchester United is going to be a very strange place without Alex Fergu- son. He was a massive influence on me. The biggest thing was that he believed in me as a young lad. He let me go out on loan to Preston at 18. I just think he has the knack of making you want to go out there and play football.
“He was always encouraging you, always talking to the young lads. It is hard to explain his influence but it rubs off on everyone.
“I’ll always remember my time there. I had two bad years with injury and the club supported me. He was always asking how I was getting on.
“When I left, he just said ‘If you need any help in the future let me know... I wish you the best of luck’. I’m still only a phone call away but my future is at Leicester City.”
And it wasn’t just Ferguson who helped out the young midfielder, with the attitude of senior players like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes a constant source of inspiration.
“They just never let a training session pass them by,” says James, who joined Leicester along with another Old Trafford graduate in full-back Ritchie De Laet.
“They are always looking to learn, even with the age they’re getting to now. As a young lad, if you let a training session pass you by, it’s ‘These boys aren’t doing that so why should I?’You learn to seize every day.
“You see what it’s like to be in the atmosphere, you see how the players train every single day, what they have to do to stay in the Premier League.
“That’s something I try to bring to training and take on the pitch. If it rubs off on anybody else, then great. I am just trying to focus on what I’m doing and I think it shows in certain games.”
Foxes boss Nigel Pearson, who also raided Old Trafford for James Chester as manager of Hull, believes James is a perfect example of the rounded players that Ferguson produces.
“We’ve loaned some players from them, and bought some as well,” he said. “And what you always find is that players have a fabulous grounding – in terms of ability but also in terms of being educated.
“Yes, they’re going to be good. But they have other qualities – mental qualities – which are very beneficial to any team.”
Leicester have another connection to United in goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, whose dad Peter was one of Ferguson’s greatest ever signings.The 26-year-old has been a consistently excellent performer this season and Pearson says he is ready to emulate his famous father.
“Of course he’s ready,” said Pearson. “As an individual, he’s a very driven young man. Like all of our players, he would love to play in the Premier League.
“He’s been an ever-present for us again this season and it would be great for somebody like him to get that opportunity. He is good enough to play there, there’s no doubt about that.”
First, though, Leicester have to get there – a task made far easier after a 1-0 victory at the a pulsating King Power stadium in the first leg.
“It was a magnificent atmosphere,” said James. “It was a goosebump experience out there. When the ball went in the net the place erupted. Fingers crossed if we get into the Premier League it will be like that every single week.”
ON THE TRAIL: Matty James, right, celebrates after scoring the first goal for Leicester against Nottingham Forest to qualify for the play-offs