David Gill, the Manchester United chief executive, has told The Independent that Sir Alex Ferguson will be the "key man" in advising on who is appointed as his successor when the club's manager eventually decides to retire.
In the second part of an extensive interview, Gill said that Ferguson will be the most influential voice in a small group of club officials who will decide on the man to take on the biggest job in English club football. Ferguson, 68, will have served 24 years in the job come November in a reign of unprecedented success that has seen him win 34 trophies – including 11 League titles and two European Cups.
Gill said: "Alex is on a rolling [one-year] contract. He is doing well, he is happy and he has a good staff who he works very closely with. He delegates well. So while he continues to have that health and support he will continue. When he decides he wants to retire he will have a word with me and say 'The end of this season or next season'.
"We would work with him in terms of identifying a replacement. In terms of criteria we will sit down and say 'What attributes must a manager have?' Lots of things come into that. British or European? What experience they have, languages, all that sort of thing as well as their track record.
"The final decision won't be [one person saying] 'Right, we are having him'. It will be discussed with Alex, [Sir] Bobby Charlton and the owners. I think Alex will be the key. He knows people. He will have a big role in advising and being a sounding board. I am sure we will talk with the owners and look at who is there and determine who we would like to appoint.
"It would be remiss of us not to use the expertise and knowledge that we have [in the club]. I think it will be quite a close [guarded] thing within the club to determine what kind of person. Alex has been very successful and another thing you have to understand is the culture of Manchester United. How we operate both on the football side and the non-football side – all that will have to be thought through [in relation to his successor]."
Gill described the potential list of likely candidates as "a small pool" of managers. Asked directly whether Jose Mourinho, expected to be appointed officially as Real Madrid manager next week, would be on that list, Gill replied: "He's done well, hasn't he?"
When the United chief executive was then asked whether he would regard working with Mourinho as a rewarding experience or one that was likely to involve a great deal of stress, he said: "I'm not going to comment on that. He has certainly got something about him. He's a winner."
Gill said that he saw no reason why Ferguson would not continue as manager for some time providing that he wants to and feels his health allows him to do the job. In the meantime, Gill said that he follows the progress of managers all across Europe and cited the example of Steve McClaren as one coach who had demonstrated it was possible to rebuild a reputation.
The United chief executive said that the speed with which a manager's stock can rise and fall was what made it "difficult" to predict who would be in contention when Ferguson finally called it a day.
"We don't know when Alex is going to retire and long may he continue," said Gill. "We don't have a list now. I could reel off potential people but we don't sit down and rank. We follow football and it is our job to understand the people who have done well.
"Take Steve McClaren. I'm not saying he is on the list because he's not, but he has had the foresight to rebuild his career at a smaller club [FC Twente] in Holland. Now he is at Wolfsburg, [if he does well there he] might go to Bayern Munich. You don't know what is going to happen. I'm not saying I am always thinking about [the next manager] but I read about football all the time, I follow it, I follow the European leagues. I know the people there."
Ferguson will have a role at Old Trafford after he retires as manager, although Gill said that the Scot would never allow it to be a repeat of the situation when Sir Matt Busby stepped down in the summer of 1969 and then cast a shadow over his successor Wilf McGuinness. When McGuinness was sacked Busby returned in December 1970 to take charge of the club for a brief second stint.
"Yes, Alex will have some sort of ambassadorial role," said Gill. "But that is to be discussed. We haven't really talked about that. Given what he has brought to the club we will want him to stay around and he will want to stay around.
"He loves the club, as you know. That [Ferguson staying] will be a given. It depends on when it happens. In terms of what he wants to do at his age. He will certainly be a key part of Manchester United going forward. He will be smart enough to demarcate between his new life and his old life.
"[I read] lots of 'sources' in the papers who say they know that Alex is going but it is fair to say that Alex will discuss it with his family first. The first person he will discuss it with at the club will be me. We get on well. We both have the interests of the club at heart. We both want it to be successful on the pitch, we both want it to go forward as a club and have a top position in world football."