For an entire generation of Manchester United supporters—indeed, for football fans of all allegiances around the world—Sir Alex Ferguson has been synonymous with the Red Devils, as inseparable from the club as the Queen is from England, as tea is from biscuits.
But according to reports released Tuesday evening, the Ferguson era at Old Trafford—now in its 27th year—could be coming to an end, perhaps imminently.
Alex Ferguson is understood to be giving serious consideration to ending his 26-year reign as Manchester United manager. More follows #mufc— Telegraph Sport (@TelegraphSport) May 7, 2013
According to the Telegraph, Ferguson could be set to retire ahead of Sunday’s Premier League trophy celebration (United host Swansea in the afternoon) or, should he opt to stay on another year, could choose to apprentice a successor during a campaign that would no doubt resemble a farewell tour.
Current Everton boss David Moyes has been tipped as the most likely candidate to do a year’s service as Ferguson’s No. 2, although with Jose Mourinho’s future at Real Madrid very much up in the air, it could be that a way is being paved for the Portuguese to succeed the man he has previously referred to as “The Boss.”
If Mourinho has forced Manchester United's hand - and we know not if that is true - he needs to do far better than he has with Real Madrid.— John Brewin (@JohnBrewinESPN) May 7, 2013
Of course, until United release an official statement all this is only speculation. But it’s likely the club will address reporters tomorrow, whether to make an announcement or shoot down the rumors.
What is known is that Ferguson is scheduled to undergo hip surgery in August, two months after United chief executive and long-time Ferguson ally David Gill resigns his post. And while neither of those items in any way suggests the Scot is contemplating retirement, buzz that change is afoot in the club’s managerial position became intense enough by late afternoon as to overshadow a team golf event in Dunham Forest.
By evening a media throng had descended on Old Trafford, but the club remained mum on the day’s developments, neither confirming nor denying the rumours.
Given that United were floated on the New York Stock Exchange last August, and that speculation over key positions can be unsettling to shareholders, the club will soon be compelled to address the Ferguson reports one way or another.
Ferguson is on a one-year, rolling contract with United.
Hearing there could be a Utd statement as early as 10am tomorrow. Club officials on standby— Dan Roan (@danroan) May 7, 2013
Given the length of his tenure and legacy of success, it’s not at all unfathomable that Ferguson should want to personally groom his successor.
This is where Moyes comes into the story, as the 50-year-old is out of contract in the summer and unlikely to find a high-profile job in England, where each of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea—should they coax Mourinho back to Stamford Bridge or appoint another big-name, foreign manager—will go into next season without vacancies.
Various factors have been pointing towards Ferguson retiring. Strongly denied for wks - then total silence today. Interesting few days ahead— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) May 7, 2013
On Tuesday odds were slashed on Moyes making a move to Old Trafford as bookmakers were flooded with overnight bets, but while Ferguson would likely step aside altogether if Mourinho emerged as his successor he would likely take a rather hands-on approach with his fellow Scot.
And it’s understandable that he’d prefer to do exactly that.
Since his arrival in 1986, Ferguson has had his fingerprints on anything and everything to do with Manchester United—from training facilities to diets to personnel. He has micromanaged every aspect of the club, and a season spent showing the ropes to Moyes would surely help ease the transition in the long run.
It will be an immensely difficult transition, whenever it happens and under whatever circumstances.
One does not simply remove Ferguson from United and expect it all to go ticking along like it has the past quarter-century. There must be a plan in place, and on Tuesday we got a taste of just how earth-shaking the implementation of that plan will be.