SIR Alex Ferguson has revealed the death of his wife’s sister at Christmas was the reason he decided to bring the curtain down on his glittering career in football management.
Speaking after Manchester United were presented with the Premier League trophy yesterday, the Scot said it was now his turn to support his family.
Sir Alex said: “I decided to retire last Christmas. Things changed when my wife Cathy’s sister died. She has lost her best friend, her sister. She’s isolated a lot now, and I think I owe her a lot of my own time.
“For 47 years she’s been the leader of the family, looked after our three sons and sacrificed for me. Now she’s got lots of grandchildren, they all dote on her and I think she’s lost her best friend, so I think I owe her time.”
Sir Alex also said he wanted to quit while he was at the top. At his last match at Old Trafford as manager, he admitted he struggled to keep his decision a secret from his family.
“It was very difficult [to keep it under wraps]. There were times when we sometimes blurted it out to the family. We told our sons in March. My brother didn’t know until Tuesday,” he said.
However, the Govan-born manager said he would not be short of things to do, saying that his family had plans for him - and doubted if he could even find the time to improve his piano-playing.
Players from United and Swansea formed a guard of honour around Sir Alex as he emerged from the tunnel to applaud the fans and his team ahead of yesterday’s match.
And after the game – a 2-1 victory for United – he took a bow after 26 years in the post. He strolled on to the pitch at a sold-out Old Trafford for the final time to a sea of red flags and the song The Impossible Dream playing.
He braved the rain to hug his players and speak to the supporters, telling them his 26 years had been “the most fantastic experience of my life”.
He joked that he would be able to enjoy watching the team, rather than “suffer with them”, and pledged that his retirement would not be the end of his time with the club, where he will remain as a director and a club ambassador.
“I have no script in my mind. I’m just going to ramble and hope I get to the core of what this football club has meant to me,” he said.
“My retirement doesn’t mean the end of my life with the club. I will be able to now enjoy watching them, rather than suffer with them. But if you think about the last-minute goals, the comebacks, even the defeats, are all about this great club of ours.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience for all of us. So thank you for that.”
He paid tribute to England midfielder Paul Scholes, who also retired yesterday, and told supporters their job now was to stand by his successor, David Moyes. “Before I start blubbing, I want to pay tribute to Paul Scholes who retires today,” he said. “He is an unbelievable player, one of the greatest players this club will ever have.”
He added: “I’d like to remind you that at the start the club stood by me, the staff stood by me, the players stood by me – and now it is your job to stand by our new manager.”
His 11 grandchildren then joined him on the pitch all wearing Manchester United strips with the word “Grandad” on the back.
Sir Alex previously managed East Stirlingshire and St Mirren, before a highly successful period at the helm of Aberdeen.