MANCHESTER: The world of football queued up to pay tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson after confirmation of his impending retirement.
Leading the way was Manchester United chief executive David Gill who hailed working with Ferguson as the “greatest experience” of his working life.
Gill said: “I’ve had the tremendous pleasure of working very closely with Alex for 16 unforgettable years – through the treble, the double, countless trophy wins and numerous signings.
“We knew that his retirement would come one day and we both have been planning for it by ensuring the quality of the squad and club structures are in first-class condition.
“Alex’s vision, energy and ability have built teams – both on and off the pitch – that his successor can count on as among the best and most loyal in world sport.
“The way he cares for this club, his staff and for the football family in general is something that I admire. It is a side to him that is often hidden from public view but it is something that I have been privileged to witness in the last 16 years.
“What he has done for this club and for the game in general will never be forgotten. It has been the greatest experience of my working life being alongside Alex and a great honour to be able to call him a friend.”
Joel Glazer, joint chairman of the Manchester United board with brother Avi, pinpointed the 2008 Champions League final penalty shootout success over Chelsea as a highlight among the many memories.
He said: “Alex has proven time and time again what a fantastic manager he is but he’s also a wonderful person.
“His determination to succeed and dedication to the club have been truly remarkable. I will always cherish the wonderful memories he has given us, like that magical night in Moscow.”
Ferguson will take on the roles of both director and ambassador for the club after stepping aside from the managerial hotseat.
Avie Glazer said: “I am delighted to announce that Alex has agreed to stay with the club as a director.
“His contributions to Manchester United over the last 26 years have been extraordinary and, like all United fans, I want him to be a part of its future.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, a supporter of Premier League strugglers Aston Villa, tweeted: “Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievement at#MUFC has been exceptional. Hopefully his retirement will make life a little easier for my team.”
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, via his Twitter account, said: “His achievements in the game place him without doubt as one of the ‘greats’. Was [an] as honour to present Sir Alex with [the [presidential] award at 2011 Ballon D’Or. Will his longevity at the top ever be repeated?”
UEFA’s Michel Platini hailed Ferguson as “a true visionary” who has made “a major contribution” to football, adding: “His CV is almost unique in a profession where results count and which normally looks to short-term rather than long-term solutions. His dedication, his attention to details and his eye for talent while manager of Manchester United and Aberdeen have been richly rewarded for over 30 years.”
Sports Minister Hugh Robertson also paid tribute, saying: “Sir Alex Ferguson is one of the greatest British managers of all time and has been an incredible servant to Manchester United, bringing the club unprecedented success domestically and in Europe.
“His enthusiasm for our national game is boundless and I congratulate him on a remarkable managerial career.”
Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) chief executive Gordon Taylor said Ferguson would be “the toughest act to follow”.
Taylor told Press Association Sport: “The game of football will be a lot poorer place without him. He has been quite simply the best. He followed in Sir Matt Busby’s footsteps and even surpassed him.
“He will be also be the toughest act to follow.”
Taylor has been PFA chief throughout Ferguson’s time at United and he admitted they had clashed on occasion – but that it was soon forgotten.
He added: “I will miss him – he has been a very good friend of the PFA throughout his career.
“Of course at times it has not always been smooth and we have had a difference of opinion but we always respected each other and we have had a lot more agreements than disagreements.
“He is a great football man, he has turned out team after team and in terms of youth development he has been one of the finest exponents of that. He has had a faith and a belief in his youngsters that is rare in today’s football.”
Former Manchester United and England midfielder Paul Ince described Ferguson as one of a kind and also admitted finding a replacement would not be easy.
Premier League acclaim
Richard Scudamore, Premier League Chief Executive, said: “The Premier League has had the privilege to witness many great players, managers and teams. No one has made as great a contribution to the Premier League than Sir Alex Ferguson.
“His drive, ambition, skill, passion and vision have not only shaped Manchester United, but in many ways the game of football as we now know it.
“Sir Alex and his teams during the Premier League era have set the pace others have had to follow; 13 titles out of 21 seasons is a phenomenal achievement. What always stood out though was the reaction to missing out, personified in this season’s campaign.
“His ability to adapt as the game progressed, developing players from within Manchester United’s youth set-up and integrating them with some of the world’s finest talent created many formidable teams playing some wonderful football.
“He is universally respected by his peers right across the world game and I am sure that even fans of rival clubs will appreciate how remarkable his many achievements have been.
“It was always unrealistic to expect Sir Alex to keep going forever, but he has built something substantial and lasting at Manchester United and his values will continue to resonate throughout the club for many years to come. That will be his permanent legacy to English football.
“Whatever the Premier League has become, Manchester United is its standard bearer and Sir Alex their talisman. Whatever the future holds, one thing is for certain, it will not be the same without him.”
Blackpool manager Paul Ince was among the past United players to pay tribute.
The former England midfielder told Sky Sports News: “He’s done the lot, you will never see anyone of his kind again.”
When Ince joined United from West Ham in 1989 Ferguson made sure his move was not ended because of a problem with his medical.
“I remember the first day that I joined Man Utd. I failed my medical and I thought my move to Man Utd was going to collapse. The way he treated me was like a son and I will never forget that moment.
“To play under that man was so demanding, his standards were so high. We had our ups and downs, a lot have ups and downs with him.”
Real Madrid’s former United hero Cristiano Ronaldo joined tributes by posting a picture of his first day at Old Trafford with Ferguson in 2003 with the message “Thanks for everything, Boss.”
Michael Owen, the former England striker who was used sparingly by Ferguson in two seasons at United, said he was honoured to have played under him: “What a man and great that it has ended on his terms. What a privilege to have played under arguably the best manager the world has ever seen. His record will surely never be eclipsed.”
Louis Saha, the French striker who scored 42 goals in 120 appearances for United said Ferguson was “the most powerful man I ever met in my life after my dad”, adding: “Huge respect for Football God.”
Peter Schmeichel, the Danish goalkeeper who was one of Ferguson’s most important signings at United, described his decision to retire as a shock and said he could not “make sense of the timing”.
“It has come as a bombshell, I really don’t know what to make of it. Yesterday I was really happy with what he had done this season, now this, I’m disappointed and very sad.
“He’s always said the day would come when something in his life wasn’t right. Is it his hip operation (he is due to have this summer)? I can’t see him retiring over that. (Until) he explains why, we can guess and guess.”
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, said his fellow Scot’s record at his previous club Aberdeen — rather than the success he had at United — was the real proof that he was an all-time great.
While at Aberdeen, Ferguson on the Scottish league twice, in 1984 and 1985, breaking the dominance of Glasgow giants Celtic and Rangers, who between them have monopolised the title ever since.
“I’m pleased he’s managed to catch everyone by surprise because I know he’ll be pleased!,” Salmond told AFP in an interview. “I still think the greatest test of a real football manager is the ability to win the biggest prizes with unfashionable sides or less powerful teams.
“Winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup with Aberdeen in Gothenburg (in 1983) is the indication that what we’re talking about here is one of the all-time great football managers.”