What Will Happen to Manchester United When Sir Alex Retires?

Matthew MaloneyCorrespondent IJune 4, 2009

"Mountains will fall, cities will crumble, skeletal horsemen will ride chariots of fire across a bleeding moon...so it is said these things and more will come to pass when Sir Alex of the Fergusons leaves the Old Trafford dugout for the last time."—[Matthew: 4/6/09]

By the end of next season Sir Alex, the most successful manager in British football history, will be 68 and if the rumours are true, saying a heartfelt goodbye to the Old Trafford faithful who have been his sole audience in his almost quarter-century stay at the theatre of dreams.

We've all read the list of successors from top to bottom and quite frankly, all of them don't look close to filling in Alex Ferguson's shoes at Old Trafford.

Mark Hughes is Manchester City manager, a disqualification from the running on its own merits to many Manchester United supporters. He doesn't seem capable of handling prima donna superstars like Robinho; he would surely bomb with Christiano Ronaldo, et al.

Steve Bruce has just taken over at Sunderland as he continues to build his solid reputation as nothing more than a fireman (but a damn good fireman).

Previously, Roy Keane did his reputation a world of harm towards the end of his reign of, if the stories are to be believed, terror, at Sunderland.

Bryan Robson? Paul Ince? Carlos Quieroz? Steve McClaren? Brian Kidd?!....not in a million years. Even old rival Jose Mourinho has extended his contract with Inter.

As it stands, Ferguson is quite simply, irreplaceable.

This question arose when Sir Alex previously announced his retirement in the 2001-02 season. The main candidate in the running was then-Roma coach Fabio Cappello.

But it is rumoured Cappello will retire after England is knocked out of the next World Cup on penalties.

Of course history tells us Ferguson stayed on after that announcement in 2002 to win another CL and yet more PL crowns to add to his peerless trophy cabinet.

The man is a pure, unadulterated winner. Will the next manager have the level of respect and freedom of control currently afforded by the Glazers?

For the Glazers, this could be the chance they've been waiting for to strip the club he built to its bare bones, as the titanic debt saddled during good times becomes too much to bear in the coming bad times.

This is to say nothing of the players, of course. Players like Giggs, Neville and Scholes, coming towards the end of their careers, will surely follow their master out the exit door.

Other players who owe their fortunes to Ferguson, the likes of O'Shea, Fletcher, Van Der Sar, Brown, Nani, Carrick, and certainly perma-crocked Hargreaves might not be to the liking of the next manager.

The beauty of Sir Alex was that he made sure the players in his squad complemented each other, even if they weren't world beaters individually.

Coaches like Mike Phelan and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may leave when the current regime ends. Ferguson's famed scouting and youth system may well wither on the vine. The network of footballing contacts that Ferguson took 20 years to build will lay idle.

Yes, it seems Ferguson is the last hurrah of the old archetype of the British manager in the increasingly global roulette wheel that football has become. 

He is a final link to an era where the likes of Jock Stein, Bob Paisley, and indeed his predecessor, Matt Busby, joined their fates with the club they managed.

Today managers are liable to be called employees by the new breed of owners.

But fear not, I personally am willing to bet we'll see Ferguson once again on our screens going purple, pointing at his watch, chewing his gum even after he leaves Old Trafford.

Either in a Great Britain Olympics 2012 tracksuit, or would you believe, on the Scotland bench again.