THE end of an unprecedented era in the history of British football was announced yesterday when Sir Alex Ferguson, the indomitable and irascible Scot who has ruled the game for a generation, confirmed his glittering career will come to a close in ten days’ time.
The most successful British manager there has ever been said the end of this season presented the “right time” for him to step down from his lengthy tenure at the helm of Manchester United, an experience he described as “an honour and an enormous privilege”.
Having won a record 38 trophies during his 26-year reign at the club, Sir Alex said it was a decision he had “not taken lightly”, but he expressed confidence his legacy would thrive courtesy of a young, successful squad.
The announcement, which overshadowed even the Queen’s Speech, sent shockwaves through the game and saw the value of the club’s shares slip by 5 per cent on the New York stock exchange, amid worries over who can possibly fill the shoes of the greatest manager British football has seen.
Given the seismic impact he has had on the English game since decamping from Aberdeen to take up the top job at Old Trafford in 1986, the news of his impending exit elicited a flurry of accolades from politicians, as well as footballers and ordinary fans the world over.
His steely desire to win, forged in the shipyards of his native Govan, brought his Manchester United teams 13 league titles, two Champions League crowns, five FA Cups and four League Cups. Throughout it all, however, Sir Alex always cherished and nurtured his roots,
remembering the influence of his manual worker father. “The Clyde made the man and that man made me,” he once recalled.
Now, the one-time apprentice toolmaker has just two games left in charge, culminating in a valedictory fixture against West Bromich Albion on 19 May. He will remain at Old Trafford as a director and ambassador.
In a statement issued through the club’s website, he said: “The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly. It is the right time. It was important to me to leave an organisation in the strongest possible shape, and I believe I have done so.
“The quality of this league-winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level, whilst the structure of the youth set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one.”
After giving thanks to his wife, Cathy, other family and the various players, staff and officials who have aided his achievements down the years, he offered a final note of gratitude to supporters, many of whom were not even born when he first arrived at Old Trafford.
“The support you have provided over the years has been truly humbling,” he added.
“It has been an honour and
an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to lead your club, and I have treasured my time as manager of Manchester United.”
Sir Bobby Charlton, another club legend, led the expansive tributes to Sir Alex yesterday, suggesting he had decided to retire because of family and health reasons.
The 75-year-old said: “I am a director, but I hardly do anything because we are winning all the time and it is all down to Sir Alex Ferguson. He would get up in the middle of the night and travel 300 miles if he thought there was a schoolboy that he could sign.
“He loves the game, and we at the club have had nothing to do really. He has made his decision on various grounds, like his family and because of the hip operation he will have this summer.”
First Minister Alex Salmond said Sir Alex “will go down in football folklore as one of the all-time greats” and pointed to his 1983 win with Aberdeen against Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final as his greatest achievement.
“To take a North-east club, with comparatively few resources, and have them conquer the might of Real Madrid in a European final is the stuff of footballing legend and a success that confirmed Sir Alex as the latest in a long line of formidable and inspirational Scottish managers,” said Mr Salmond.
Prime Minister David Cameron took to Twitter to praise Sir Alex, but expressed hope his retirement would mean only good things for Aston Villa.
He wrote: “Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievement at #MUFC has been exceptional. Hopefully his retirement will make life a little easier for my team #AVFC.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “He is not only an asset to Manchester United, but a huge asset to the country.”
Retirement from the frantic world of top-level football will allow Sir Alex to pursue his innumerable another passions, not least his study of the history of the United States.
In recent years, he and his wife have made increasingly regular trips to their luxury apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan, and it is thought that the couple will redouble their efforts to explore the country, in particular the southern states, given Sir Alex’s fascination with the Civil War.
In Manchester, meanwhile, the spotlight has turned on who will take his place. Everton manager and fellow Glaswegian David Moyes has emerged as the frontrunner, with an appointment expected imminently.
Manchester United shares begin to recover
News of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement caused an initial dip in Manchester United’s share price on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday, but by the close of trading it had bounced back.
From an opening price of 18.77 US dollars, the shares fell by as much as 4.5 per cent to under the 18-dollar mark and then revived significantly.
The value of a share at the close of trading was 18.44 dollars, 33 cents down - a 1.76 per cent drop - and still higher than the share price on Friday last week.
United’s overall market value fell from 3.09 billion dollars (£1.98 billion) to 3.04 billion dollars (£1.95 billion) - a fall of 50 million dollars (£32 million).
The shares initially fell in New York amid fears over the impact that Ferguson’s departure will have on the club.
The opening bell on Wall Street saw shares down by three per cent, driven lower by worries over whether the club can appoint the right replacement for the most successful manager in English football history.
In his own words
On Ryan Giggs: “I remember the first time I saw him. He was 13 and just floated over the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.”
On Gary Neville: “If he was an inch taller he’d be the best centre-half in Britain. His father is 6ft 2in – I’d check the milkman.”
On Italians: “When an Italian tells me it’s pasta on the plate I check under the sauce to make sure. They are the inventors of the smokescreen.”
On rivals Liverpool: “My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f*****g perch. And you can print that.”
On kicking a boot into David Beckham’s face in 2003: “It was a freakish incident. If I tried it 100 or a million times it couldn’t happen again. If I could I would have carried on playing!”
On the 1999 Champions League triumph, right: “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Football, bloody hell.”
On the 2003 title race: “It’s getting tickly now – squeaky-bum time, I call it.”
CRISTIANO RONALDO, former Manchester United winger: “Thanks for everything, Boss.”
RORY MCILROY, US Open champion: “An end of an era today! Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest of all time! United will have a tough time trying to replace him!”
DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister and Aston Villa fan: “Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievement at #MUFC has been exceptional. Hopefully his retirement will make life a little easier for my team #AVFC.”
EDITH BOWMAN, television presenter and radio DJ: “Wow, highly emotional times in the Bowman household with the news of Uncle Alex. Tears when he left Aberdeen and tears aplenty today.”
GARY LINEKER, former England striker, wrote tongue-in-cheek: “Surprised to hear Sir Alex Ferguson is stepping down as Manager of Manchester United. Thought he was doing an okay job.”
GEORGE GALLOWAY, Scots MP: “Sir Alex Ferguson, greatest ever football manager Greatest Living Scotsman, all who love football salute you.”
NANDO’S, in reference to Sir Alex’s insistence on extra injury time for his side, dubbed Fergie Time by rival fans, wrote: “In honour of Sir Alex Ferguson we’re proud to introduce #NandosFergieTime – all our Manchester Nando’s will be open 5 minutes later tonight.”