The one and only Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson with David Moyes. Moyes, who will succeed Ferguson as Man U manager, will find it hard to match the winning-streak of Ferguson.-AP

Alex Ferguson’s talents include a superb sense of timing as he showed when he picked the right moment to quit. By Ted Corbett.

There are a few chosen ones, beyond great, outstripping that overused word fantastic, too good to be called perfect, so far ahead of their peers that you want to find a special word to cover their worth.

They are the best of the best, a class above the elite. This fortnight one of the finest left the everyday world and moved into history to applause louder than thunder.

Like Bradman, with his Test average touching 100 and Pele, gentleman and footballer, Alex Ferguson, a rough son of the shipbuilding parish of Govan in Glasgow, reached beyond the stars and found there was room for him above Everest. He was one on his own and no-one can deny his place in football.

There is not another manager in the game, in Scotland where he honed his skills, or in England where he established a monopoly over the Premier League, who can match his record. Some say it will never be beaten; I believe records were not meant to last. One day it will fall into the hands of another ambitious football boss.

His talents include a superb sense of timing as he showed when he picked the right moment to quit. I suspected his retirement was not far away during the match against Chelsea when he failed to respond with one of his famed tantrums after his midfield player Rafael de Silva was sent off.

On all previous form he should have leapt from his seat, harangued the fourth official and gone back to his place to prepare an attack on Chelsea, the referee and anyone who dare contradict him. True he defined Chelsea’s Juan Mata as “a dying swan” for grinning as da Silva was sent off but this was no “hairdryer”, the usual definition of Ferguson enraged.

Ah, I thought, his pace-maker, his upcoming hip operation, his age and the example of the Queen, who is cutting down her flights abroad, and a retired Pope have all suggested it is time to go.

Besides David Moyes, the Everton manager, another Scot from the same mould, had hinting that he might move on. Soon the story filled the back pages and early next morning Manchester United admitted it was true and released a Ferguson statement hinting at a new life full of other interests. Moyes was installed quickly even if he does not start work until July 1.

Players, managers, officials of every sort, queued to deliver their eulogies, wordsmiths churned out their most sentimental columns and TV re-ran pictures of Ferguson’s biggest moments, from Cup finals at Wembley to a knighthood at Buckingham Palace, from Govan to greatness.

Those pictures showed a warm, generous man absorbed in the needs of the club, concentrating on the wishes of his players, all things to all men. There was another bad-tempered side to Ferguson but that had no place in this torrent of goodwill towards the greatest manager who ever lived.

I would like to have seen pictures of Moyes as he watched on his office TV. Every moment foretold an added burden to a man who has for the last dozen years produced a series of successful teams by carefully spending a tiny budget.

All last season the measure of every team in the Premier League was defined by how well they have performed against Everton, whose few stars were dependent on hard work and Moyes’ relentless drive.

Will Moyes spend the United millions wisely? Will the stars respond to his demands? Can he match Ferguson’s winning statistics short term or long term?

United claim Ferguson will not interfere but Moyes will find that huge shadow haunts him daily.