Huge speculation last night resulted in the football world collectively holding its breath until this morning when official confirmation was received of the retirement of Manchester United legend, Sir Alex Ferguson.
After 26 years and almost 1,500 games, the announcement was made via the Manchester United website that Sir Alex would step down at the end of this season. The Scot’s retirement has largely caught everyone by surprise, since Ferguson himself recently rebuffed rumours that he would stand down following the club’s 20th league triumph only two weeks ago.
Make no mistake, this is a colossal moment in the sporting world. The biggest football club on the planet must now put their well laid plans into motion by replacing the most successful manager in British football. 13 English League titles, two Champions League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, a European Cup Winners Cup, a European Super Cup and a World Club Championship are a testament to that.
For those who enjoy the butterfly effect theory, Ferguson’s achievements were extremely close to being a non-event. He was only a whisker away from the chop in 1990 after three trophy-less years but the Red Devils laboured their way to FA Cup glory. During the following year, corresponding with English clubs returning to European competition following completion of the Heysel ban, United captivated audiences in England as they nerve-shreddingly progressed through each round in the European Cup Winners Cup, culminating in a 2-1 defeat of Barcelona in the final held in Rotterdam. From there on United never looked back. A couple of seasons later, the club’s first domestic league title in 26 years was secured and the rest as they say is history.
The timing of United’s early success under Ferguson coincided with the reorganisation of English football in the early 1990s. Division One became the cash cow known as the Premier League, which turned England into the most lucrative league in the world, directly correlating with United eventually becoming the biggest brand in global sport.
Speculation concerning the Scot’s successor will reach fever pitch. Historically, Jose Mourinho’s name has always been mentioned. However, United’s directors will be less than impressed with the Portuguese’s recent antics, in his latest attempts to ensure he walks away from the Bernabeu with his contracted €20m pay out.
The smart money points in the direction of David Moyes, as he seems to be the best fit in the Ferguson mould. Rumours earlier in the season suggested that the Everton manager was departing Merseyside for Germany this summer, in order to gain more experience to then eventually take his place in the Old Trafford hot-seat. A spell in Germany for Moyes is still a viable option as Bayern Munich’s outbound coach Jupp Heynckes will be free in the summer. Credited with establishing the current Bayern Munich crop as the cream of Europe, United could do much worse than placing the 67 year-old German (he turns 68 tomorrow) at the helm in the short-term.
Love him or hate him, one thing is for certain, English football will be poorer without Ferguson’s touchline antics.