Tuesday 19 March 2019

Wenger and Guardiola lead tributes to legend

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson remains in intensive care. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images for Nike
Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson remains in intensive care. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images for Nike

James Ducker

Arsene Wenger spoke for world football yesterday when he delivered a heartfelt message of good wishes and support to Sir Alex Ferguson following news that his friend and great rival is seriously ill in intensive care following a brain haemorrhage.

Ferguson underwent emergency surgery on Saturday and, in beginning his farewell speech as Arsenal manager on the Emirates Stadium pitch, Wenger received applause for his words about the former Manchester United manager.

"I just want to say: 'we care'," he said. "I would like to wish my fellow manager, Alex Ferguson, well very quickly." Ferguson had written a message in the Arsenal match-day programme in which he paid tribute to Wenger's career and described their rivalry as having "made the Premier League".

Wenger had spent time with Ferguson when he was presented with a vase on the Old Trafford pitch before Arsenal's 2-1 loss last week and they then reminisced in the United directors' box after the game.


"He looked in a perfect shape - he told me he is doing a lot of exercise and he looked very happy," said Wenger. "He is a strong and optimistic man."

Ferguson famously referred to Manchester City as "noisy neighbours" during the latter years of his United tenure and the City supporters joined Wenger in wishing the 76-year-old a full recovery.

Two City fans, who were part of a post-match pitch invasion following their Premier League title-winning season, held up a banner bearing the words: 'Football aside, get well Fergie'.

City manager Pep Guardiola then brought his entire back-room staff into the post-match press conference. Brian Kidd, his assistant, was a member of United's 1968 European Cup-winning team and also Ferguson's assistant at Manchester United for seven years.

"All the love in the world to him," said Kidd. "He's such an iconic person.

"There was a really sombre mood yesterday evening and this morning. You think Sir Alex is really indestructible. We've all been brought up with him.

"What he did for Manchester United was unreal and the pressure he was under every day to produce. It's phenomenal. He's in our prayers and thoughts - Cathy and the kids. God bless him."

Ferguson took Guardiola out to dinner two weeks ago to congratulate him on winning the Premier League and the City manager echoed Kidd's sentiments.

"Big hugs - our thoughts are with his wife Cathy and the Manchester United family," he said. "All the Manchester City fans in the stadium, you cannot find one person who does not wish the best. The manager was outstanding but, as a person, amazing."

Manchester United said on Saturday night that Ferguson's surgery had gone "very well" but that he would need a period of intensive care to aid his recovery.

Ferguson retired as British football's most successful manager in 2013 after 27 years and 38 trophies with United, including the treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in 1999.

The first public suggestion of a problem was when Doncaster manager Darren Ferguson, Sir Alex's son, did not attend his side's final match of the League One season against Wigan because of what was reported as a "severe family issue".

The Football Association, Premier League, Fifa and Uefa, as well as individual clubs and players from across the world, have been sending their best wishes.

"I woke up to hear that Sir Alex Ferguson is in hospital," said Pele. "A Man Utd man through and through. Get well soon, Sir Alex."

Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham both began their careers at United under the father-like Ferguson. "My thoughts and prayers are with you, my dear friend. Be strong, boss!" Ronaldo wrote.

Beckham posted a picture on Instagram of him signing a contract as a teenager alongside Ferguson, accompanied by the message: "Keep fighting, boss. Sending prayers."


United club captain Michael Carrick said he was "absolutely devastated" by the news. "All my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. Be strong, boss," he said.

Former United captain Bryan Robson, now a club ambassador, confirmed that the operation had gone well. "Hopefully they've found the bleed in the brain early enough and it doesn't affect the boss in any way," he said.

Everyone thinks it was all the 'hairdryer' stuff but the boss enjoys a good time, really enjoys his racing and is good company when you're around him."

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore spoke of the admiration that is felt for Ferguson throughout the football world.

"Our primary thoughts are with Sir Alex's family," he said.

"We are hoping he gets himself sorted and back in his normal fighting spirit. We know how revered he is in football, beyond football, in UK culture and the world."

Ferguson also had an extraordinary career in Scottish football before arriving at United in 1986.

After transforming St Mirren, he took over at Aberdeen and guided them to the European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1983, beating Real Madrid in the final.

"The thoughts and prayers of everyone connected with Aberdeen FC are with our former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and his family," said a club statement. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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