When the news broke that Sir Alex Ferguson would be stepping down from his position as manager of Manchester United, a post he has held for almost 27 years, it was genuinely one of the most profound moments of sadness I have felt in my life.
At 22 years of age, I have known nothing other than Manchester United since the age of six, and for the entirety of my life, one man alone has led the club I love. To now suddenly be faced with the prospect of watching my team take the field without Fergie sitting in the dugout is a completely alien concept.
Yet despite the disappointment, the shock and the sadness that became prevalent in the hours after his announcement, Manchester United fans need to spare a moment to look back on the career of the finest football manager in the history of the sport. Taking the club from the shadows of their Merseyside rivals Liverpool in the 1980s to the very peak of European football not once, but twice—as well as amassing a record-breaking 13 league titles and five FA Cups—speaks volumes of the man's ability to overturn the fortunes of a football club.
Twenty-seven years in the hot seat at Old Trafford have yielded a staggering 38 trophies and a wealth of memories that will last a lifetime.
Who Is Ferguson's Best Player?
But of course, as Sir Alex Ferguson has said on many occasions, it is not the manager who tends to win games, it's the players. And during his remarkable time with the club, we have seen some footballers of truly astonishing talent don the famous red shirt.
Not only did the club dominate the 1990s following the birth of "Fergie's Fledglings," but after a U-turn on retirement in 2001, Sir Alex launched yet another devastating assault on the domestic and European competitions, establishing yet another sustained period of success.
What follows below is my selection for Fergie's greatest starting 11. Feel free to add your opinion as to any suggestions, removals or amendments.
Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel
Truly the finest goalkeeper of his generation and a man who is quite rightly considered one of the greatest of all time. He was at the peak of his powers for the eight seasons he spent with the club, terrifying attackers and his own defenders alike with his domineering, aggressive leadership from the back. Fitting that in his final season he played an integral role to the finest season the club has experienced.
Right-back: Gary Neville
As loyal a servant to Manchester United as you could ever fathom, the Bury-born full-back was a staple fixture in Sir Alex's sides throughout the years. He graduated from the club's famed academy and became a consistent and a consummate professional. "Red Nev" was rightly lauded as one of this country's finest ever defenders.
Centre-back: Nemanja Vidic
One of the most formidable defenders in the modern game and the foundation from which United's recent successes have been so steadily built upon. Since his debut seven years ago, the towering Serb has continued to exert his considerable influence on the pitch and quell the talents of the most accomplished forwards.
Centre-back: Jaap Stam
Sir Alex would later describe the sale of the Dutch powerhouse as the footballing decision he most regretted, but for the three seasons that Stam spent with the club, he was simply superb. Strong, alert and composed, he and Ronny Johnsen formed my favourite Manchester United centre-back pairing.
Left-back: Denis Irwin
A model professional in every sense of the word, the affable Irishman was an exemplary example of how footballers should conduct themselves. He served the club for over a decade and was a near-permanent fixture on the left flank, as good going forward as defending. One of the most diligent and underrated footballers in recent years.
Left-midfield: Ryan Giggs
What more is there to say about a man who has played over 1,000 top-level games, is the most decorated footballer in English history and continues to uphold standards of excellence at age 39? From flying winger in the '90s to cultured playmaker in the following decade, he is a true legend. After 23 years in the game, he will play under a new manager for the first time in his career, aged 40.
Centre-midfield: Roy Keane
He and Ferguson may have not seen eye-to-eye in the last days of his Manchester United career, but the Irish warrior was the finest captain the club has ever witnessed. His inextinguishable desire to win lifted all those around him, and it was a privilege to watch him lead the Red Devils out for almost eight years. A man cemented in Manchester United folklore as a true great.
Centre-midfield: Paul Scholes
The most gifted English footballer of a generation, the quiet man from Oldham became the hub of Manchester United's creativity for years. A wonderful passer and mean striker of the ball, the "Ginger Prince" was regarded as one of the club's finest ever players, especially by Sir Bobby Charlton. Another one of "Fergie's Fledglings" that went on to conquer Europe.
Right-midfield: Cristiano Ronaldo
In 2009, he was the club's first Ballon d'Or winner in 31 years, and despite his move to Real Madrid four years ago, his name is still chanted by the United faithful. Describing Ferguson as "his father in football," the Portguese ace remains to this day not only the best footballer in the world, but also a man whom the fans will forever hold dear to their hearts. Viva Ronaldo!
Forward: Eric Cantona
The King. An absolute genius on the pitch, who repaid his more-than-occasional moments of lunacy with some astonishing football. The talisman that led the club towards its first league title since 1968 and a man who took to the Old Trafford turf like he owned the place. For all intents and purposes, the French maestro did.
Forward: Ruud van Nistelrooy
He may not have quite the collection of winners' medals as others on this list, but the Dutchman was one of the most prolific goalscorers Old Trafford has ever seen. His time with the club was tainted a little by a fallout with Sir Alex, but he still remains a highly popular figure. An absolutely lethal footballer within the 18-yard box.
Edwin van der Sar: a true great whose performances for the club saw him assume the mantle of the prince to Schmeichel's throne.
Ronny Johnsen: If it were not for injuries, the Norwegian would be straight in ahead of Stam and Vidic, such was his immeasurable talent.
Steve Bruce: Captain, warrior and the early leader in Ferguson's first title-winning sides. Considered a hero around Old Trafford.
Bryan Robson: The precursor to the "Keano" era, "Robbo" was combative, selfless and as tough as footballers came. Legend.
David Beckham: a shining example of a talented and supremely dedicated sportsman, not to mention a terrific dead-ball specialist.
Wayne Rooney: One of the few well-rounded forwards who on his day is unstoppable, he is written into United legend.
Robin van Persie: He may have only been under Ferguson's charge for a season, but he has already cemented himself as one of the club's best strikers.
So there we have it, the finest crop from a phenomenally successful 27-year period, the likes of which will probably never be repeated. There are few epithets suitable to describe the love, devotion and sheer gratitude myself and the fans of Manchester United owe Sir Alex Ferguson, but one which fits quite snugly when shed of its exorbitant current usage is legend.