Ferguson offers to stay as long as he is wanted

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The Independent Football

Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson has thrown down the gauntlet to the rest of the Premiership - not to mention his employers - by announcing that he would like to stay at Old Trafford for as long as the club will have him. Speaking from a position of strength after winning his eighth Premiership title in 11 seasons last May, he says he is as hungry as ever and would be happy to extend a contract due to run out in two years' time.

Coming from eight points behind Arsenal to win last season's title proved a triumphant vindication of Ferguson's change of heart over his proposed retirement, which he had originally announced for May 2002. His family eventually talked him out of it, though United were only days away from agreeing a deal with a successor - believed to be Sven Goran Eriksson. "As far as I am concerned I feel great," Ferguson said on the eve of taking on Arsenal in today's Community Shield match at the Millennium Stadium. "There is nothing in me which says the decision I made to stay on has been wrong. I have no plans to retire. No plans at all. I could go on for another few years if they want me."

That remains to be seen, But further success in the next two seasons to add to the abrasive Scot's eight championships, one European Cup, one European Cup-Winners' Cup and four FA Cups would make it difficult for the Old Trafford hierarchy to show him the door, especially since both parties are in favour of a clean break when the time eventually comes. Only last week United's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, said: "Alex is as good as he's been in five years. The demeanour, the body language, the hunger, the commitment, it's all there."

After a humiliating 3-1 defeat by Manchester City in November, the 62-year-old Ferguson was being accused of having stayed on too long. He felt it would be necessary to break up the team, but now believes they have reinvented themselves in remaining unbeaten in the Premiership since last Boxing Day. Despite selling David Beckham, United are favourites to retain the title.