Alex Ferguson has stunned Man United fans by quitting after 26 years as manager.
Rumours began swirling yesterday of the 71-year-old's imminent retirement and the club confirmed his departure this morning on Twitter.
Fergie issued a statement this morning saying: "The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about. It is the right time."
"It was important to me to leave an organisation in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so.
"The quality of this league winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level whilst the structure of the youth set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one.
"Our training facilities are amongst the finest in global sport and our home Old Trafford is rightfully regarded as one of the leading venues in the world.
"Going forward, I am delighted to take on the roles of both Director and Ambassador for the club. With these activities, along with my many other interests, I am looking forward to the future.
"I must pay tribute to my family, their love and support has been essential. My wife Cathy has been the key figure throughout my career."
The speculation reached fever pitch after senior figures at the club failed to respond to repeated attempts to confirm or deny the story, which emerged following United's player-versus-coaches golf day at Dunham Massey yesterday afternoon.
The club is publicly quoted and was forced to act quickly because of strict stock exchanges rules after the news broke yesterday.
When United's owners, the Glazer family, issued its prospectus for the club's £500m bond issue in January 2010, the prospect of Ferguson leaving the club and potentially jeopardising future success was raised by the Americans as one of the risk factors attached to investing in the club.
Ferguson had appeared to brush aside the prospect of standing down this summer when he insisted in his programme notes prior to Sunday's Old Trafford defeat against Chelsea: "I certainly don't have any plans at the moment to walk away from what I believe will be something special."
Ferguson said: "This team of champions is not going away – we are here for the long ride.
"We will get better and if we apply ourselves in our normal fashion, I see our 20th league title as nothing but the start of another decade of success. Whether I will be here to oversee another decade of success remains to be seen, but I certainly don't have any plans at the moment to walk away from what I believe will be worth being around to see."
However, having always cited his health as the primary factor in any decision to retire, the club's confirmation on Friday evening that Ferguson – who had a heart pacemaker fitted in 2004 – would undergo hip surgery in August, two weeks before the start of the new season, raised fresh doubt over his determination to continue in the post.
Bookmakers dramatically cut the odds on the 50-year-old due to intelligence that bets had been placed on the basis of strong information.
Jose Mourinho, the Real Madrid coach, is likely to become available this summer, with some figures within the club pointing towards Ryan Giggs being promoted to take a senior role on the coaching staff when Ferguson leaves.
Ferguson has repeatedly dampened down retirement speculation ever since he performed an about-turn on plans to walk away at the end of the 2001-02 season.
He has since admitted that his decision to go public with his intentions was an "absolute disaster" and vowed that he would not make a similar mistake when he chose to leave the club.
With Ferguson remaining at Old Trafford as a director it could present a thorny issue for any incoming manager, with Matt Busby's elevation to an 'upstairs' role following his retirement in 1969 ultimately proving a distraction to his initial successors. His opinion will, however, be sought on the appointment of a replacement.
The Scot's determination to wrestle the Premier League title back from Manchester City this season, having been devastated by the loss of the crown to United's neighbours, has been rewarded with his 13th league title as Old Trafford manager.
And although he has admitted his disappointment at failing to win more than two European Cups, the ability to walk away having restored the club's dominance, both locally and nationally, has given Ferguson the opportunity to leave on a high.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)