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Combativeness has been a huge part of Sir Alex's nature from the beginning. In his excellent 2010 biography called Football - Bloody Hell, Patrick Barclay writes,
Ferguson has been involved in more controversy than any famous manager since Brian Clough. From the start, his belligerent nature was visited on Scottish referees sheltering from the thunder outside their dressing-room door.
Since his beginnings in football, he has fought everyone—rival teams, players, referees, the footballing establishment. Everything has been aimed towards establishing the supremacy of his team and winning trophies.
At Aberdeen, he viewed deposing the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers as his greatest challenge. In his first years at Manchester United, he set his sights on knocking Liverpool off their perch. This was followed by defeating Arsenal's challenge. Then came the turn of Roman Abramovich and his millions at Chelsea.
Ferguson has risen to his greatest heights, every time his supremacy has been challenged. Nothing brings out the best in him that the prospect of a fight for trophies.
Ferguson has talked about retirement on two major occasions. The first was in 2001, when he announced he was going to retire at the end of the season. The second was in the aftermath of the Champions League triumph of 2008, when he said he didn't see himself continuing as the manager at United for more than three years from that date.
It is no coincidence that both these times came during periods when United were enjoying prolonged success. They had won three consecutive Premier League titles in 2001 (including the treble in 1999). In 2008, they had followed up a second consecutive Premier League title with Ferguson's second Champions League winner's medal.
Adversity has always brought out the fighter in Ferguson. So, it is difficult to envisage Ferguson retiring from United at a time when the club's hegemony has come under threat, both domestically and in Europe.
Manchester City have emerged as the new domestic power, while Chelsea and Arsenal have also re-invented themselves into credible threats to United's chances of silverware.
If there is something clear about Ferguson's character, it is his unwillingness to ever shy away from a fight. He might not consider the current situation his greatest challenge at United, but there can be no doubt that he wishes to stamp his dominance on the new challengers to United's supremacy before deciding to call it a day.