Jeremy Laurance: Retiring from Manchester United could be dangerous for Alex Ferguson
Fergie has said he is not ready to give up just yet
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Wednesday 02 January 2013
Sir Alex Ferguson is not ready to give up his Saturday afternoon adrenalin fix – at least not yet. Whether his body can take it is another matter. At 71 he is no longer young. Stress is known to trigger heart attacks and extreme stress goes with his job. He has always remained slender but his fitness level is uncertain. He had a pacemaker fitted in 2004 to correct a minor irregularity in his heart rhythm.
Heart problems are not uncommon among football managers. On the other hand, heart attacks occur only in those with pre-existing disease. The fact that he has been able to maintain his punishing work rate for almost a decade since his pacemaker was fitted suggests he is not in imminent danger.
More important, in his case, may be the psychological impact of his impending – but now delayed – retirement. Football, and Manchester United, are in his veins. They are what gets him up in the morning. It is not uncommon for people to fall ill, and even die, soon after retirement. The loss of status, and of purpose, leaves them bereft. Suddenly they find themselves with time but no idea how to fill it. Loss of structure, too, leaves them floundering. Ferguson himself has said: "My father retired on his 65th birthday, and one year later he was dead. " It is for this reason psychologists say planning for retirement is essential.
If, after 26 years as United's manager, Ferguson can still take the pressure, why should he not continue? He may be taking a small risk with his physical health, but staying true to the love of his life could be the best way of extending it.
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