Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson may struggle to find purpose in retirement

He has so much to pursue – but will Sir Alex struggle to find purpose in retirement, ask Ian Herbert and Chris McGrath?

Now for the rest of his life and the hope that he will be able to fill it – because for all of the talk about his eclectic interests it is hard to avoid the impression that the day is soon upon us which has filled Sir Alex Ferguson with dread.

He declared a few years back that he would travel more – New York has become an increasing part of his life in the international breaks which he has used to rest – and would “even read history books”. There would be languages to study, because the passage of time had made him rather sentimental about the four years of German he studied at school. “It comes easy with the guttural accent of the Scots. I’ve been studying French for years. I could take on Italian... I already know a few sentences...” Spoken with the certainty of a man who has commanded his own environment for so long, and who also says he feels he needs a piano tutor to enhance his self-taught ability. As the list went on and on, these felt like the words of an individual trying to convince himself that there was so much to do and so little time, though the memory which most seemed to haunt him was, in fact, that of his father, Alexander, who retired on his 65th birthday and was dead a year later. An 80-year-old Bernie Ecclestone’s assertion that people retire to die struck a chord with Ferguson. “He’s right,” the soon to be former Manchester United manager once said.

His long-planned role in appointing David Moyes will give him a sense of entitlement to remain involved in the club which has been defined by him – and it will be natural for him to cast back to his early United years when the pipe smoke drifted out of Sir Matt Busby’s office and he called him in. Theirs was a cordial relationship and the Glazers will encourage him to guide Moyes and make it a transition in more than name. But he will not be the manager of Manchester United.

He will be free, of course, to attend the racecourses which have become a passion, even though the announcement of his retirement seemed to have contributed to his absence from the big May meet at Chester, where he tends to be a fixture. It meant that he missed his runner in the fifth race. Buttterfly McQueen finished a promising second, and so volunteered herself as one future distraction for a man notoriously lacking many outside football. More auspiciously still, Ferguson also has a share in a colt named Telescope, who won his debut impressively last year, and has been burning up the Newmarket gallops this spring. He goes on trial for the Derby itself at York next week.

These horses run on the Flat, but last month Ferguson also had an interest in two outsiders in the Grand National. But it would be a mistake to conclude that the man from Govan is any kind of big player in horseracing – or that he has any particular desire to become one. The top jumps trainer, Paul Nicholls, is fond of invoking his patron as an inspiration and source of advice, but only in terms of the common challenges they face as leaders in their field.

The fact is that he still talks of his horses in the same artless vernacular you might hear in a Govan betting shop. During Rock Of Gibraltar’s record spree of seven consecutive Group One wins, in 2001 and 2002, he persevered in referring to the champion colt as “it” rather than “he”. The sport’s defining uncertainties themselves offer this compulsive winner a kind of relief. In the same way, by confining himself only to a share of various different horses – reckoned to be up to 20 in all, whether through blue-chip syndicates of the type that owns Telescope, or in partnership with friends like Ged Mason, a Manchester businessman – Ferguson distances himself from the obsessive standards he applies to matters under his control.

One of his trainers does divulge that Ferguson once made a discreet telephone call at half-time, when he had a runner during a match. But his interest remains unpretentiously rooted. He has a bet most days, finding it “a great release and outlet” – as it once was for his own father when earning six pounds a week on Clydeside. “My dad loved his racing,” he says wryly. “But he was a bad judge.”

It’s the relaxation he finds there which has created his well-known love of the Turf, albeit it was once explosively interrupted by the Rock Of Gibraltar affair. “One of the reasons I like racing is that, largely, people leave me alone,” he said once. “And when they do talk to me, it is likely to be about what is going to win the 3.30 rather than football.” That was when he was a genuine part of football and when everyone wanted a piece of him. As Ferguson pondered the hinterland beyond United he received a text message from Michael Owen, tipping his own yard’s 9-2 winner, and Owen hopes to nurture their mutual interest by encouraging him to have a horse in the stable, under the trainer Tom Dascombe, now he has more time on his hands.

Perhaps Ferguson will agree. Perhaps he will also stock that wine cellar with more of the French, Piedmontese and Tuscan vintages which he so loves. He reckons he’s read a bit on that, too. So many ways of filling the time. So few to fill the vast hole in his life.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
News
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
people
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil