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Ferguson is a once-off

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File photo dated 11/05/2008 of Manchester United players are lead out by manager Alex Ferguson to collect their trophy following the Barclays Premier League match at JJB Stadium, Wigan. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Dave Thompson/PA Wire.

File photo dated 11/05/2008 of Manchester United players are lead out by manager Alex Ferguson to collect their trophy following the Barclays Premier League match at JJB Stadium, Wigan. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Dave Thompson/PA Wire.

File photo dated 11/05/2008 of Manchester United players are lead out by manager Alex Ferguson to collect their trophy following the Barclays Premier League match at JJB Stadium, Wigan. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Dave Thompson/PA Wire.

ACROSS the world today, a herd of football writers and sub-editors woke up to the news that they had lost their best friend. On a slow day, Alex Ferguson never came up short in the headline stakes.

Ferguson's remarkable career at Old Trafford has been laced through the narrative of every football follower's life for the past 30 years and particularly those of us who work the media beat.

Those who hate Manchester United saw him as a Red Devil incarnate but still the best football manager on the planet and maybe the best that ever lived.

Working pressmen lived in fear of being speared on the end of his gimlet glare for asking the wrong question. Very few questions were the right ones in his ears.

Many moons ago as a (very) young cub reporter, circumstances put me in the front row of a Ferguson press conference after a game.

The thinking was that I needed to get as close as I could to the great man to put a question about Manchester United's recruitment policy in Ireland.

Big mistake. He wasn't in the best of form and and his eyes cut through me the moment words started to spill from my mouth. Raw terror turned my tongue into putty and a garbled and almost incomprehensible query eventually emerged.

 

Details

"What are you on about son?," he barked before moving on. "Who's next then?"

Distraught and without the words I needed to deliver the piece I wanted to do, I was shuffling disconsolately away from the media room when a Manchester United staff member tapped me on the shoulder.

"The manager will take a call from you tomorrow in his office but he will only talk about Ireland," he said.

And he did. For an hour. Ireland was still an important detail to him and to Manchester United and he always looked after the details.

There are other snapshots. Like the moment in the car park under the Nou Camp while Denis Irwin and Roy Keane took time to talk to the handful of Irish journalists who made the trip to Barcelona for the Champions League final in 1999.

Just 50 yards away, Ferguson chatted amiably and animatedly with my brother, a lifelong Manchester United supporter who had made the trip to Catalonia and managed to talk his way into the mixed zone.

They spoke for about 15 minutes and while Keane and Irwin were priority interviews for any Irish journalist in the circumstances, all I wanted to know about was the content of the conversation Ferguson was having with the brother.

"Off the record," said my brother with an inscrutable smile and waved to his new best friend as Ferguson climbed into a limo and drove away.

 

Respected

Alex Ferguson is a one-off and in the true meaning of that much abused phrase. Many hacks hated him but they all respected his ability and his status as the best in the business.

In football terms, we will never see another manager accumulate such an astonishing list of trophies and it is very unlikely that the Glazer family will find a man to deliver another dynasty to rival this one.

The Glazers and indeed everyone at Old Trafford are in unknown territory for the first time since 1986.

They have a monumental decision to make now and no matter who they go on to appoint, nothing is guaranteed.

Ferguson gave everyone a sense of security; a feeling that tomorrow, he will still be around to talk and to be talked about.

That's finished now and football will move on, as it always does but his decision to retire leaves a gap in the landscape of the Premier League which will never be filled.


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