Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will step down after 26 years in charge following Sunday’s game against Swansea.
LONDON — For almost 27 years, fans at Old Trafford have watched Alex Ferguson vent his anger, berate officials, check his watch and make celebratory jigs down the sideline.
On Sunday, a crowd of 76,000 will have one final chance at home to savor all the habits of the most successful manager in British soccer history.
With Manchester United having wrapped up the Premier League title, the game against Swansea has no real bearing on the standings. But the league trophy will be presented to Ferguson for the 13th and final time, and United’s players want to give their 71-year-old retiring manager a suitable send-off.
“It could be a bit emotional with it being his last game at Old Trafford and all the kids and everything there,” Ferguson’s son, Darren, said in a video interview with the magazine Twentyfour7 Football. “No one will ever replace him. It should be a good day for the family on Sunday but he’s ready to go.”
Ferguson has yet to explain why he has decided to end a United career that has yielded almost 50 trophies since 1986. Former England coach Fabio Capello, however, spoke by phone with Ferguson.
“A few months ago he told me that he was going to stay on,” Capello told broadcaster Sky Italia. “The news of his retirement really surprised me. I called him and he told me that he decided this way because of excess stress. ... He told me that now he’ll go and travel a bit, have fun and see the world with his wife.”
Darren Ferguson, however, rejected the theory his dad retired because of health issues.
“There’s nothing wrong with his health, contrary to what some people are saying,” said Darren, manager of Peterborough United. “He’s got to have a small hip operation but it’s no different to most 70-year-olds. ... He feels like he’s going out at the right time, he’s left the club in a fantastic position, very healthy.”
It was his wife, Cathy, who persuaded Ferguson to reverse plans to retire at the end of the 2001-02 season.
That Ferguson is leaving on his own terms would have seemed unthinkable during his early days with United when it took him four years to win his first trophy — the FA Cup — and another three to land the Premier League.
“He was the greatest coach of all time, especially because of all the difficulties he overcame at the start of his career with Manchester and for remaining for so many years on the same bench,” Capello said.
“It’s really incredible. I normally think that after four-five years at the most a coach should move. So to think that he stayed on the same bench for 26 years is incredible. That takes psychological, technical and humane capacity. I had a special relationship with him.”
Ferguson’s successor is of the same mold — fellow Glasgow native David Moyes, who is leaving Everton after 11 years at the end of the season.
“I don’t think anybody thought the day would come when Sir Alex Ferguson retired,” Moyes said. “We all thought he was superhuman. He is an example to anyone in their 70s. The respect for him within the game is beyond any words I can use.”
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