Young Lion and Manchester United ace Matthew James enjoying Preston loan.
By Nicholas Veevers
The infamous Manchester United youth academy has provided the world of football with a number of household names over the years and there are now high hopes of a few more emerging in the near future.
It was back in February 1995 that United boss Sir Alex Ferguson sent a 19-year-old midfielder called David Beckham out on loan to Preston North End to help learn his trade and the player who went on to represent United, Read Madrid and England with such distinction now credits that short spell as being vitally important in his career development.
Fast forward some 15 years, and it’s now the turn of Young Lion Matthew James to tread the same path from Old Trafford to Deepdale and if he can follow anything like Beckham's success in his career then all parties will be delighted.
The 18-year-old recently linked up with the Lilywhites until the end of the season and admits he is already feeling the benefits after just four appearances in the Championship for Darren Ferguson's team.
“It’s been really good from my point of view to get out and start playing first team football,” revealed the midfielder, who has represented England at U16, U17, U19 and U20 level so far in his career.
“At United, it’s obviously not that easy to do, but in the four games I’ve had so far at Preston, I’m feeling the benefit already.
“I’m learning a lot and hopefully I can keep going as much as I can until the end of the season, and then go back to United and see what happens.”
Born in Rochdale and brought up in the Lancashire valley town of Bacup, James grew up watching nearby Burnley as a youngster but any childhood loyalties were put to one side just ten minutes into his Preston debut when he made a dream start by opening the scoring against Sheffield United at Deepdale.
“It was a tough game to start with against Sheffield United,” he revealed.
“I’ve watched them a couple of times before and they don’t really play too much football so it was a hard game to come into for my debut.
“I really enjoyed it though and whilst it was a bit of a scrappy goal, they all count don’t they?
“Hopefully I can get a few more before the end of the season now.”
Despite his tender years, James has already accrued a lot of experience having been a regular for United’s reserve team and, of course, at international level.
However, the cut and thrust of Championship football offers a different challenge and James admits he can feel the benefits that it will bring.
“It’s different, because in the reserves with United, you find that you can get away with things,” he explains.
“Maybe I could get away with a bad touch or four or five touches too many, but in the Championship, it’s very competitive.
“You have a lot of British players involved so the desire and tempo is unbelievable really.
“You might think that it would settle down after 20 or 30 minutes, but it doesn’t, it goes on for 90 minutes and the desire to win from every single team and every single player is incredible.
“I think you probably have a lot more time to settle and play in the Premier League, whereas in the Championship it’s a lot quicker and any team can beat anyone.
“If you look at the league table, you can end up going up or down in the next few weeks. You could be promoted or in the relegation zone!
“It’s a lot more physical and intense than the Premier League, so I think it’s a good experience for me, at 18-years-old, to go back to United with.
“It was a shock at first, but I feel that I’m getting to grips with it now and understanding the game a bit more.”
The links between Manchester United and Preston currently extend to more than the M61 motorway too. James’ fellow Old Trafford and England team-mate Danny Welbeck is also impressing at Deepdale, whilst the most obvious connection is the relationship between the two managers, Sir Alex Ferguson and son Darren Ferguson.
“They’re both quite similar really,” revealed Matt. “They both have high expectations from you.
“I’ve been on the bench at United and seen how the gaffer there works and playing under the gaffer at Preston now, I can see how they are similar.
“He expects 100 per cent from every single game and if you give him that, then hopefully we can get our break and start passing the ball around like we know we can do.
“Danny Welbeck was here for a few weeks before me, but when I got told that Preston were interested, I was keen to try and get here too.
“Obviously knowing someone else in the changing room helps you and I’ve been playing with Danny for the last ten years or so at various levels.
“Hopefully we can both carry it on and show everyone what we can do.”
Next on the agenda for James is a clash with Cardiff City this weekend, before he then links up with the England U19 squad for next Tuesday’s game with the Netherlands.
International football remains high in his priorities, particularly having captained the Young Lions for their game with Russia in Shrewsbury last September.
“It was a great honour,” he said.
“To do that at any level is fantastic and I did it for the U17s and the U19s, so for me personally, it’s great to see that I’m still in the eyes of the England staff.
“International football is different from the reserves and Championship, as you’re playing teams from different countries.
“We have a game against Holland next week, who will be technically very good, and then you can come up against the African teams who are very athletic, physical and strong as we saw against Ghana in the World Cup last year, so every game is a different challenge and it’s all part of my development.”