Freddy Shepherd, former Newcastle chairman, has revealed he tried to coax an unhappy Sir Alex Ferguson away from Manchester United in 1997.
As reported by Lee Ryder of the Newcastle Chronicle, the Toon hierarchy planned on replacing Kevin Keegan with the Scottish legend after he left Tyneside in January '97, an act that would have significantly altered the timeline of English football history:
When Keegan left, we tried to get Ferguson as his replacement. We had talks with his advisors at the time. We were ambitious, we tried to get him—at least we tried. At one time we thought we might get him because he wasn't happy with Man U. It wasn't to be though. We soon realised there was no way he was going to come to Newcastle.
Interestingly, Ferguson would have been installed after Keegan's famous, "I will love it" rant. This was brought on by the former United manager's suggestion that teams didn't try against Newcastle during the 1995-96 season, which saw Keegan's men drop a 12-point lead to Ferguson and his side, remembered by BBC Sport.
Ferguson also went on to win the Premier League and old FA Charity Shield in '97, but it was his success two years later that defined his reign as Old Trafford boss. United's historic treble—completed with a last-minute 2-1 comeback against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final—was undoubtedly the highlight of a 26-year tenure that produced 38 trophies, per The Independent.
The iconic boss had recently missed out on signing Alan Shearer when Newcastle's interest was raised, noted by Neil Rowlands of the Mirror. Although he may have been tempted to link up with the English striker at St. James' Park, the recently retired manager will be relieved he remained committed to a United project he did so much to influence.
Shepherd suggests a breakdown in talks occurred when he realised Ferguson was "using" Newcastle's interest to land a more profitable deal at the Theatre of Dreams.
The Magpies hired Kenny Dalglish instead, who initially performed well by earning Newcastle a place in the Champions League. He then decided to sell stars such as Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Peter Beardsley, receiving the sack at the beginning of the '98 campaign.
Ruud Gullit was installed, and since then, Newcastle have limited the amount of managers they have worked through. Current boss Alan Pardew is the 12th man to receive the hotseat after Shepherd's attempt to land Ferguson, and he is currently the second-longest serving boss in the Premier League behind Arsene Wenger, per Colin Young of the Daily Mail.
How different things could have been. Ferguson's successor, David Moyes, has endured a terrible first season at United; something Barney Ronay suggests was likely since his arrival, per The Guardian:
The team has struggled on the pitch and in the transfer window from the moment last July when David Moyes was first unveiled as Alex Ferguson's replacement, posing for the cameras by the home dugout with a pallid grimace of a smile, like some incredulous new father about to wander out of the maternity unit for the first time with his papoose on upside down.
While United may have faced this situation with greater haste if Ferguson left in '97, it's difficult to suggest the club would be where it is today without the leader staying. The Scot embodied United's character over the years, gave the club a no-surrender attitude and played the type of attacking football that drums up worldwide support.
Moyes is yet to achieve any of these things, but as Ferguson's story shows, he may need time to settle into one of football's most famous roles.