The former England manager Fabio Capello has admitted he was surprised to learn of Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to leave Manchester United this week and believes it was down to “excess stress”.
Capello – who is now in charge of the Russian national team after resigning from the England post last year – spoke to Ferguson this week after the news that his 26-year reign at Old Trafford will come to an end after next Sunday’s match against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. The Italian described Ferguson as “the greatest coach of all time” but, with the 71-year-old due to have a hip operation in July, also indicated that he had expected the Scot to carry on for at least another season.
“A few months ago he told me that he was going to stay on. The news of his retirement really surprised me. I called him and he told me that he decided this way because of excess stress,” said Capello.
“He told me that now he’ll go and travel a bit, have fun and see the world with his wife. He was the greatest coach of all time, especially because of all the difficulties he overcame at the start of his career with Manchester and for remaining for so many years on the same bench.
“I normally think that after four to five years at the most a coach should move, so to think that he stayed on the same bench for 26 years is incredible. That takes psychological, technical and humane capacity. I had a special relationship with him.”
Ferguson’s old sparring partner Arsène Wenger was among the Premier League managers to pay tribute to Ferguson. The Frenchman will become the longest-serving manager in English football after next weekend and Wenger admitted his rival would leave a large hole to fill.
“I would just like to pay tribute to an unbelievable achievement and a fantastic career,” he said. “Basically the achievement is immaculate, when you look at the whole structure and consistency of the achievement. It is, of course, something exceptional.
“It is difficult to imagine English football without him, but it’s now a reality and a fact. Of course the next manager has to fill in and show he has the dimension to do that. It is a big task for the guy who comes in.”
Meanwhile, two of the leading candidates to replace David Moyes as Everton manager have both moved to distance themselves from the post.
Celtic’s Neil Lennon is most bookmakers’ favourite to land the role after guiding the Scottish club to the last 16 of the Champions League this season and picking up a second successive Scottish Premier League title. But despite operating on a rolling contract at Celtic Park, the former Northern Ireland international insisted he is happy where he is.
“Of course, it is nice recognition,” he said. “Roberto Martinez was favourite and I’m favourite today, it could be someone else tomorrow. But all of it is speculation. I have a job here, I have a great job, a great set of players, a great support, so I am pretty happy here. We’re already looking at Champions League preparation and bringing in new players.”
The Swansea City manager Michael Laudrup also moved to distance himself from the role yesterday ahead of his side’s trip to Old Trafford for Ferguson’s last home fixture as United’s manager.
Wayne Rooney was unveiled as the centrepiece of a new poster outside United’s ground, although there is speculation that the England striker could be on the bench after reportedly requesting to leave the club before Ferguson announced his retirement.