Sir Bobby Charlton: Sir Matt Busby said his Manchester United heir had to be a big man. Sir Alex Ferguson has been the biggest

I am happy for him, and for the club he leaves in such sturdy health

For many years I dreaded the day when Sir Alex Ferguson would no longer be the manager of Manchester United.

I fought against the possibility in his early days when he was laying the foundations of what would be such a brilliant regime. My argument was that we had one of the most exceptional managers ever to rise up in the game, someone who had done incredible work at Aberdeen and had all the qualities to return United to their old status at the top of English football.

There was relief when Alex survived that early crisis – and still more 12 years ago when he told me, as we waited for the lift at Old Trafford, that he had withdrawn his resignation.

I gave him a hug and said it was the best news I had had for a very long time. I was sure he would win many more trophies for United.

So I should have been devastated. In fact I was happy. I was pleased that he had chosen his moment, happy for both him and his family that they could look forward to some good years in each other's company. A man can only commit himself to so much effort in one lifetime and this is especially true if you are a workaholic.

I was also happy for the club, which he leaves in such sturdy health after 26 fantastic years.

It makes it so much easier for him to change the style of his life that United have just won their 13th Premier League title under his care. No one can say that he walked away under the pressure of failure. That would have been catastrophe at the end of a superb career.

Comedians say that you should always leave the audience laughing. For football managers it is a case of leaving them winning. In a perfect world you also leave them with the expectation of further success. No one could have done this more impressively than Alex.

Some have expressed the concern that his presence on the board will be an unwelcome one, almost a shadow, on his successor. I don't have any such misgivings. When Alex was finding his feet at Old Trafford Sir Matt Busby had a little office at the ground.

He didn't intrude but he watched the new man's progress very closely and one day he said to me: "We're in very good hands you know. This is someone who knows how to build a club, to get all the details right." I know Alex hugely appreciated the unobtrusive support of a man who had done so much for the club, and I'm sure he will want to play a similar role.

Towards the end of my playing career at United, Busby took me on a golfing break in Scotland. Really it was to discuss his belief that it was nearing the time for him to hand over the challenge of managing the club. He said that United might face some tricky years. His successor had to be a big man. I knew he would have joined me in celebrating the reign of maybe the biggest one football is ever likely to see.

 

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Trophy haul: How it compares

49 major trophies Sir Alex Ferguson (trophies won at St Mirren, Aberdeen and Manchester United)

30 Valeriy Lobanovskyi (Dynamo Kiev)

25 Ottmar Hitzfield, right (FC Aarau, Grasshopper, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich)

24 Jock Stein (Dunfermline Athletic and Celtic)

21 Giovanni Trapattoni (Juventus, Internazionale, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Red Bull Salzburg)

21 Walter Smith (Rangers)

20 Jose Mourinho (Porto, Chelsea, Internazionale, Real Madrid)

20 Bob Paisley (Liverpool)

19 Louis van Gaal (Ajax, Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich)

17 Ernst Happel (ADO Den Haag, Feyenoord, Club Brugge, Standard Liège, Hamburger SV, FC Swarovski Tirol)

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