Sir Alex Ferguson to retire at end of season, but his shadow will continue to loom over Man United

Brooks Peck
Dirty Tackle

Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to retire as manager of Manchester United at the end of this season after 26 years in charge of the club. Now 71 years old, the most successful manager in English football history has already won the Premier League title this season, his 13th with the club and 38th trophy overall since taking over in 1986, but he will not leave Man United entirely. Instead, he will stay on as "both director and ambassador for the club."

His statement (via the Guardian):

"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.

"Our training facilities are amongst the finest in global sport and our home Old Trafford is rightfully regarded as one of the leading venues in the world. Going forward, I am delighted to take on the roles of both director and ambassador for the club. With these activities, along with my many other interests, I am looking forward to the future. I must pay tribute to my family, their love and support has been essential. My wife Cathy has been the key figure throughout my career, providing a bedrock of both stability and encouragement. Words are not enough to express what this has meant to me.

"As for my players and staff, past and present, I would like to thank them all for a staggering level of professional conduct and dedication that has helped to deliver so many memorable triumphs. Without their contribution the history of this great club would not be as rich. In my early years, the backing of the board, and Sir Bobby Charlton in particular, gave me the confidence and time to build a football club, rather than just a football team.

"Over the past decade, the Glazer family have provided me with the platform to manage Manchester United to the best of my ability and I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with a talented and trustworthy Chief Executive in David Gill. I am truly grateful to all of them.

"To the fans, thank you. The support you have provided over the years has been truly humbling. 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."

Ferguson previously announced he would retire afte the 2001/02 season before labeling the decision "an absolute disaster" and changing his mind midway through the campaign. Just last weekend, after it was reported that he would undergo hip surgery this summer, he wrote in his program notes ahead of Man United's 1-0 loss to Chelsea:

"This team of champions is not going away - we are here for the long ride.

"We will get better and if we apply ourselves in our normal fashion I see our 20th league title as nothing but the start of another decade of success.

"Whether I will be here to oversee another decade of success remains to be seen, but I certainly don't have any plans at the moment to walk away from what I believe will be something special and worth being around to see."

With Ferguson stepping down, the current favorite to replace him remains Everton manager David Moyes, who has a barren trophy cabinet compared to the three Scottish league titles, four Scottish Cups, UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Super Cup Ferguson won with Aberdeen before going to Man United. Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has also long been rumored to be a candidate for the job, but the possibility of him returning to Chelsea has become a foregone conclusion in recent weeks.

Whoever Ferguson's replacement is will have a monumental task ahead of him. Even if Ferguson were completely stepping away from the club, his legendary accomplishments have set a near impossible standard to live up to. When Sir Matt Busby, another all-time great Man United manager, quit the club for the first time in 1969, it started a period that saw the club go through five managers in 17 years (including the brief return of Busby) before Ferguson was given the job in '86. Throughout that span, Manchester United did not win a single league title. Busby won his last title in 1967 and Ferguson didn't end the drought until 1993 — seven years into his tenure. A grace period his replacement is unlikely to get in the modern age with patience in short supply and so much more money at stake.

Any slip-ups and calls for Ferguson to return will be as inevitable as said slip-ups. But such a thought just shows how impressive Ferguson's reign was. Twenty six years in charge of one of the biggest clubs in the world and with a trophy haul that most other clubs couldn't match in their entire history. His opponents won't miss his greatness nor his dominance. His new roles could prevent Man United supporters from missing him, though those who work under Ferguson just might wish everyone would forget him. He might not be violently chomping his gum and berating referees from the touchline anymore, but his enormous and intense presence will be felt for some time to come.

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