Does he need cover for long-term injury victim Nemanja Vidic? Where is the midfield playmaker to fill the considerable boots of the retired Paul Scholes? Is it time to release Dimitar Berbatov and back young gun strikers such as Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda? Should he persevere with blunder-prone goalkeeper David De Gea? Will the Europa League be a blessing or a curse after United’s exit from the Champions League? What can he do to prevent moneybags neighbours Manchester City denying him a 13th Premier League trophy?
Those are the types of conundrums Ferguson has solved season after season in a 37-year career as a football manager since taking charge of East Stirlingshire in 1974.
Turning 70 would be a signal for many to take it easy, to pass on the fruits of their success to a younger man. You just know that will not have entered Ferguson’s head. Not with a young team in transition and the critics taking pot shots for results such as the 6-1 mauling by Manchester City at Old Trafford earlier this season.
Not when there are more trophies to be won to add to the 12 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, ten FA Charity/Community shields, two Champions League crowns, a Cup Winners’ Cup, a Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup he has delivered in his 25 years at Old Trafford.
It is the energy, the determination and the buckets of sweat which went into that merry haul which are most impressive. Plus the swashbuckling way they were delivered.
Winning might be the only thing for some managers, as former Liverpool boss Bill Shankly once pointed out. But that has never been the case for Ferguson.
Ferguson’s teams entertain. They have to. It is the United way, the legacy handed down by Sir Matt Busby and protected passionately by Ferguson.
His good fortune was being at Old Trafford when arguably the most prolific class of home-grown players in British football suddenly blossomed at the same time in the early 1990s.
Most top clubs produce one or two top-notch talents in a decade. Ferguson could have packed the team bus with the class which delivered David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers shortly after Ryan Giggs had already been introduced to the Old Trafford public.
That was a rare gift, a set of world-class players steeped in loyalty and brimming with quality. They were to be the bedrock of his dynasty.
The genius of Ferguson, however, lies in being able to combine such rock-solid values while also accommodating the swagger which has become the club’s hallmark.
Taking Eric Cantona to Old Trafford for a bargain £1.2 million was an example, a move which delivered United’s first league title in 26 years in 1993. The nurturing of the flamboyant Cristiano Ronaldo was another, as was his dogged pursuit of Ruud van Nistelrooy whose initial transfer was delayed because of fitness concerns but who eventually scored 150 goals in 219 appearances for the club. Ferguson’s instinct is usually right, but it is not flawless, and Eric Djemba-Djemba and Juan Sebastian Veron are testimony to the fact that even the best can pick a turkey or two at times.
It would be wrong to consign De Gea to that category just yet, but it was his mistake at Basel which effectively cost United a place in the knockout phase of the Champions League this season.
There is no doubt Ferguson has mellowed from the days when the famed hairdryer was in daily use, partly due to age, partly to the fact that intimidation no longer works with millionaire internationals, many of whom see a fall-out with the manager as another excuse for a transfer pay day.
Recently he patched up his seven-year feud with the BBC, although the Premier League’s referees would probably dispute the mellowness come kick-off time.
It is that fire in the belly which defines Ferguson. A fire which sees him relishing the battles ahead as he celebrates his 70th birthday a week before his side take on Manchester City in the third round of the FA Cup.
Such contests are what Ferguson lives for and why retirement is simply not on the agenda, even though his legacy as the best manager ever to grace the British game is assured.
Better than Jock Stein, Britain’s first conqueror of Europe with Celtic. Better than Brian Clough who, with Kenny Dalglish and Herbert Chapman, shared the honour of being the only men to have won league championships with two different clubs.
Better than Bill Shankly, who laid the foundations for a footballing dynasty at Anfield. Better than Liverpool’s Bob Paisley, with his 13 major trophies, which included three European Cups.
Better than Busby, British football’s European pioneer. And considerably better than more enduring professorial leaders such as Arsene Wenger.
Ferguson is unique. A manager who alighted on the most accomplished way to run a football club and deliver trophies. No wonder he does not want to give up even when, with City and Tottenham and Chelsea and Arsenal and Liverpool all closing in, the Premier League has never been more competitive.
Ferguson merely sees it as a fresh challenge. That is why all football lovers, regardless of allegiance, should raise a glass or two to Ferguson on New Year’s Eve. Happy birthday Sir Alex. English football would be a duller place without you.
ROLL OF HONOUR
As a player:
Second Division champions 1962-63.
Second Division champions 1969-70.
As a manager:
First Division champions 1976-77
European Cup Winners’ Cup: 1982-83
European Super Cup. Aberdeen: 1983-84
Scottish Premier Division winners 1979-80, 1983-84, 1984-85
Scottish Cup winners: 1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-84, 1985-86
League Cup winners: 1985-86
Champions League: 1998-99, 2007-08
European Super Cup 1991-92
Intercontinental Cup: 1999-2000
FIFA Club World Cup 2008-09
FA Cup: 1989-90, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1998-99, 2003-04
European Cup Winners’ Cup 1990-91
Charity Shield 1990-91 (shared), 1993-94, 1994-95, 1996-97, 1997-98
Community Shield: 2003-04, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2011-12
League Cup 1991-92, 2005-06, 2008-09, 2009-10
Premier League: 1992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2002-03, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2010-11
1983. Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)
1995. Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
1999. Knight Bachelor