Preston North End have confirmed the signing of Manchester United midfielder Ben Pearson. The 21-year-old joins on a permanent deal for an undisclosed fee and has signed a two-year contract with the Championship outfit, becoming the fourth player secured by manager Simon Grayson over the past fortnight.
United goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, who helped his hometown club secure promotion via the play-offs last term, returned to Deepdale on an emergency 28-day loan agreement in December 2015, while Aston Villa's Callum Robinson and Middlesbrough winger Adam Reach have had their respective loan deals extended until the end of the season.
Although he failed to make a single senior appearance at Old Trafford, Pearson impressed during two previous loan spells with Barnsley. The England U20 international made 20 appearances for the Tykes during the 2014-15 campaign and rejoined the League One strugglers in July on a six-month deal. His impressive performances under Lee Johnson led The Sun to report that he was set to join Bournemouth this month, yet Preston have now swooped to secure his services on a full-time basis.
"It was only a few days ago that I knew the Club were interested, then it all went quite quickly from there," Pearson told Preston's official website. "I got to an age where I needed to play games, I went to Barnsley this time last year and played a lot of games and played well.
"It was a good start to my men's football career and I thought it was best to get a few more games under my belt before I took that step up to the Championship. I managed to get another 20 or 30 games and I think now is the perfect time to step up really.
"I really enjoyed my time at Manchester United, and I can only say good things about them. As a young lad it is hard to breakthrough there with the players that they've got and all of the money that they can spend on players so it's time to take a step back. It's time to jump down a league but with a willing to get back to the top, and I think this is the right time to do that."
Preston, who were knocked out of the FA Cup on 9 January after suffering a 2-0 loss at Peterborough, are currently 15th in the second tier, with seven wins from their opening 25 matches putting the Lilywhites 10 points away from both the relegation zone and the top six. Pearson could make his debut this week as they travel for consecutive away fixtures against Bristol City and Ipswich.
Speaking about his new signing, Grayson said: "We knew about Ben whilst he was at Manchester United and he was the right age to go out and get some games and we have kept our eye on him whilst he has been at Barnsley.
"He has played close on 50 games on the spin for them. He has played as a holding midfield player; played in a three getting forward, and we see him as energetic, box-to-box, likes a tackle and coming from Manchester United he is decent on the ball as well."