Ferguson will step down in three years' time: Football

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Some managers succumb under the pressure and go to Florida, others lie awake at night worrying when the chairman's vote of confidence will come. Alex Ferguson has the luxury of announcing his retirement date.

The Manchester United manager yesterday revealed he will give up the position when his contract runs out in three years' time. His one ambition in the meantime is to emulate his most illustrious predecessor, Sir Matt Busby, and win the European Cup. "I can see the finishing line," Ferguson, who was appointed in November 1986, said. "When this contract runs out I'll be 58 and I can't see me continuing as manager beyond that." He also quelled any suggestion that winning the European Cup beforehand will bring forward that retirement date.

"What we achieve this season will have no bearing on the issue," he said. "My position at this club won't be changing before the end of my current contract. I committed myself to United for a further three years when I signed this contract and I will definitely see it through."

The announcement will inevitably cause a three-year stampede of speculation as to who will succeed Ferguson, whose record at United includes two Doubles, three championships, three FA Cup wins and the European Cup-Winners' Cup. He has also created a youth set-up that is the envy of the Premiership and has already produced three England internationals in Gary and Phil Neville and David Beckham.

Ferguson's nominated heir is his assistant, Brian Kidd, but he is said to be reluctant to face the media spotlight that goes with the job. Bryan Robson, a former captain, would have been the supporters' choice 12 months ago but, with his club, Middlesbrough, bottom of the Premiership, sentiment has changed.

A gap of three years allows senior players now to cut their teeth in management to be ready for the year 2000. Another erstwhile captain, Steve Bruce, is in that category while a maverick candidate might be Eric Cantona, who is 31 in May and has suggested he wants to stay in football when he stops playing.

Ferguson, meanwhile, is unlikely to allow the imminence of his retirement to diminish a hunger to succeed that shows no sign of being sated by honours. "I have completed 10 years at Old Trafford," he said, "and I am as ambitious now as the day I arrived. You never become indifferent to success, or at least I don't. Every single day is important and that is how I will view this job until the time comes to step down.

"I have had it in my mind for some time that I would stand aside when I reached 58. But you never know for certain what circumstances will prevail three years down the line. Whatever happens in the future, I intend to stay active."

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