ALEX FERGUSON will lose his most powerful and closest ally at Old Trafford at the end of the season after Manchester United chief executive David Gill announced he will step down this summer.
Ferguson admitted Gill's departure would be a "big loss" to him personally and revealed that he tried to find a way of persuading him to stay.
The pair formed a crucial alliance during Gill's decade as chief executive, fostered during regular Friday morning meetings in Ferguson's office at the club's training ground.
"We have had a million arguments," the United manager remarked affectionately yesterday.
Gill (55) will be replaced by Edward Woodward, the club's 40-year-old executive vice-chairman, who has driven a huge expansion in United's commercial activity in recent years.
Gill will remain on the United board but will now focus on his attempt to win election to UEFA's executive committee as the English FA's representative in three months' time.
Woodward, meanwhile, will have to form an effective working relationship with Ferguson, who has yet to reveal when he plans to finally bring his illustrious spell as United manager to an end.
"Him (Gill) stepping down is a big loss to me," Ferguson said. "But the fact that he is staying on the board encourages me that the reason for his departure is heartfelt – that he believes it is time for the club to move on.
"If I could have found a way of persuading him to stay, I would love to have done that. But he has made his decision and I respect him for it. He has been, and will continue to be, a fantastic success for Manchester United.
"David has all the qualities of successful people ingrained in him – energy, honesty, integrity, personality and decision-making ability. I wish him well in whatever new challenges he will tackle in the future."
Ferguson added: "Of course, we have had a million arguments. But I have always enjoyed them because I know that David has two great qualities – he is straight and he always puts Manchester United first.
"I have been at United for over 26 years and for 23 of those years, my boss has been one of only two men – Martin Edwards, who brought me to the club, and David Gill. I have enjoyed working with both."
Gill said: "It has been a very hard decision because I love this club and, as the fans' banner says, it is more than a religion.
"But I am also of the view that all businesses need to refresh themselves and, after 10 years in charge, I believe it is appropriate for someone new to pick up the baton.
"I am looking forward to continuing my involvement on the club board and I hope to be able to make a contribution to the game on a wider national and European level."
Gill has spoken in the past about the fiery, but respectful relationship he had with Ferguson.
"I wouldn't say I'm exempt from the hairdryer," he said in November 2011. "But I would say I can give as good as I get."
The trust between the two men has proven to be decisive during key moments over the past 10 years, such as Wayne Rooney's contract stand-off in 2010, when discussions between Ferguson, Gill and the Glazers ultimately saw United win the battle with the player, who had appeared set to force through a move to Manchester City.
Gill has overseen a decade of success and turbulence at United, including the club's 2008 Champions League triumph in Moscow and the divisive leveraged takeover by the Glazer family in May 2005, which Gill initially opposed by claiming that "debt is the road to ruin". (© Daily Telegraph, London)