After nearly 27 years and 1,499 matches at Manchester United, Alex Ferguson heads into his last game as a football manager surprised by his own longevity and desperate to end his illustrious career on a winning note.
The 71-year-old Manchester United manager will retire after Sunday’s Premier League match against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns, a week after bidding an emotional farewell to Old Trafford following a 2-1 victory over Swansea.
“1,500 matches – it’s quite incredible,” Ferguson said. “Every team wants to win their last home game – that’s a fact of life - and also I want to win this one more than last week’s even.”
Ferguson’s coaching career began 39 years ago in the Scottish lower leagues with unheralded East Stirlingshire and concluded with more than a quarter-century at the top of the English game with United, where he won 38 trophies and established himself as Britain’s most successful manager.
“It’s a different life, 39 years as a manager, 1974 - going from that day [when we had] eight players and no goalkeeper to today, with six goalkeepers and 100 players,” he said. “The memories are all there. Twenty-six years at Manchester United is fantastic... The day I came here was a privilege and the day I’ve left will be an honor. I’m lucky to have been here that long.”
Ferguson said he slept for 10 hours after celebrating United’s 20th English league championship - and his 13th Premier League title - with a parade through the streets of Manchester.
“It’ the first time in my life that I’ve had 10 hours’ sleep – [wife] Cathy kept making sounds round about me,” Ferguson said. “I think she was just checking to see if I was alive.”
But that isn’t a sign of things to come for a man known for his relentless work ethic and being first in and last out at United’s training complex at Carrington in west Manchester.
Ferguson’s new life will likely see him having a closer involvement in his second passion of horse racing and spending more time with his family and on holiday. He’s then scheduled to have hip surgery in July.
“I don't think I'm going to be that way, I'm driven to take on some challenges and some other things right away,” he said. “I’ve got a league managers meeting on Monday, I’m going to Newmarket [for horse racing] on Tuesday and Wednesday... I’m going on holiday on June 4, it’s the [English] Derby on June 1, I’m going on holiday for a month.”
“Then I’m having the operation, then I’ve got the recuperation, then the season starts, so we’re OK.”
Ferguson, who will become a director at United once he passes on the reins to David Moyes, made his decision to quit coaching last Christmas and said he has no regrets. Not even after the dejection he felt following United's exit at the hands of Real Madrid in the Champions League in March, when winger Nani was controversially sent off with United ahead on aggregate in the two-legged match.
That denied Ferguson the chance of a third title in the Champions League, a competition in which he has always acknowledged United has underperformed for a club of its stature.
“I made my mind up long ago and that was it... you can’t be successful without disappointments, I think disappointments are good for you,” Ferguson said. “It’s a challenge to you and for your players’ character to recover and I think we’ve been doing that over the years.”
“Change is inevitable, you have to manage that,” Ferguson added. “There have been big changes in this club in terms of number of staff, sports science, modern technology has come into it. When I started as a manager, there were no agents, media was different then too, the changes are all there, integrated over a long period. But I don’t think I’ve changed much.”