Alex Ferguson will retire as British soccer’s most successful manager, having led Manchester United to 38 trophies in 26 years.
The 71-year-old Scot, who guided United to a record-extending 20th English league title last month, will step down at the end of the season and join the board, United said. Chief Executive Officer David Gill said the team would “move relatively quickly” to appoint a replacement. Everton’s David Moyes is the bookmakers’ favorite to get the job.
Ferguson mixed youth-team players such as Ryan Giggs with foreign talent including Cristiano Ronaldo in a period of domestic dominance featuring 13 Premier League titles, five F.A. Cups and four League Cups. He also guided the Red Devils to two European Cup wins.
“The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly,” Ferguson said in the statement. “It is the right time. It was important to me to leave an organization in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so.”
Stability and success under Ferguson, who abandoned plans to retire at the end of the 2001-02 season, enabled United to become one of soccer’s financial powerhouses. The northwest England team’s owners, the U.S.-based Glazer family, held an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in August, raising $233 million by selling 10 percent of the 135-year-old club at $14 per share.
The shares fell 31 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $18.46 in New York Stock Exchange trading today after declining as much as 5.5 percent. They’ve risen 30 percent this year.
In a prospectus for a bond the team issued in January 2010, the possibility of Ferguson leaving and potentially jeopardizing future success was raised as one of the risk factors attached to investing in the club.
“He will probably be a very hard if not impossible act to follow,” Gordon Taylor, who has been chief executive officer of the Manchester, England-based Professional Footballers’ Association since 1981, said by telephone. “His DNA is throughout the club: he emphasized football was a team game that was bigger than any individual.”
United Co-Chairman Joel Glazer said in the team statement that Ferguson’s “determination to succeed and dedication to the club have been truly remarkable.”
Ferguson, who played for Glasgow-based Rangers among other Scottish clubs, made a name for himself as a coach at Aberdeen. During an eight-year stint through 1986, he led the club to three Scottish league titles, breaking the hegemony of Rangers and Celtic. He also won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1983.
After joining United, he initially struggled to win over fans with some calling for him to be fired following a losing streak that included a 5-1 defeat at Manchester City in 1989. Ferguson kept his job after United turned around its form and won the F.A. Cup the following year, the first of his trophies with the club.
The team’s previous experience in replacing a long-term manager didn’t go smoothly. Matt Busby retired in 1969 after a 24-year tenure, returning for a brief spell in 1970-71 after Wilf McGuinness was fired. The club didn’t win another trophy until 1977 and dropped out of England’s elite division for the 1974-75 season.
“We will move relatively quickly,” Gill said on MUTV, the club’s television channel. “I’m not going to define how quickly that is though.”
Everton manager Moyes is the 1-20 favorite to replace Ferguson, according to odds offered by Coral Bookmakers, so a successful $20 bet would return just $1 plus the stake. Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho is second at 12-1, while Borussia Dortmund’s Juergen Klopp is 16-1.
“My betting would be David Moyes, not a loudmouth like Jose Mourinho,” Edward Freedman, who was managing director of United’s merchandising unit for five years through 1997, said by telephone. “It’s important that it’s someone like Moyes because it’s a public company and you need to be good with the press and not shoot from the hip.”
Ferguson was “wise and very understanding” about the commercial side of the club, Freedman said.
Ferguson is retiring after regaining the Premier League title that Manchester City won last season with a goal in the final moments of the last game. United won the title this season with several weeks left.
As Ferguson exits the club, 15 members of the first-team squad are at age 23 or under. Gill, who will step down as United’s CEO after 10 years on June 30, has repeatedly said that the club will seek advice from Ferguson about the next coach.
Gill said in the team statement that United has been preparing for Ferguson’s retirement and his successor can count on staff that are “among the most loyal” in sports.
Ferguson “has put the team in the winning mode and a lot of managers will want to build on that,” the PFA’s Taylor said. “But it will be the most daunting task to replace him.”
Ferguson’s accomplishments make him one of sports’ most successful managers. The team has won 75 percent of its home games under Ferguson, who also has 161 more Premier League victories than the second-placed coach, Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, according to Opta Sports. He still trails Liverpool’s Bob Paisley, who is the only manager to have won the European Cup three times.
The Scot’s records match those of some of the greatest managers in sports. Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach won 9 National Basketball Association titles between 1950 and 1966, while Vince Lombardi had five National Football League championships, including victories in Super Bowl I and II, for the Green Bay Packers.
Former New York Yankees bosses Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel both won Major League Baseball’s World Series seven times.