Former Manchester United players reacted with astonishment at Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement. Peter Schmeichel described the news as a "bombshell" and said he couldn't "make sense of the timing" – a feeling echoed by Michael Owen.
"I'm surprised, but everyone's got to retire at some stage," said Owen. "I thought he was going to go on for another year or two. Anyone in their early 30s and below would have known nothing else other than Sir Alex leading Manchester United out. It's an unbelievable piece of news."
Bryan Robson, a United ambassador, had no inkling: "It definitely came as a surprise, because I go in to watch training every now and again. The boss hadn't mentioned anything, not that he would because he does not give too much away. Still, it is a bit of a surprise."
And Steve Bruce felt the same: "I just spoke to him a couple of days ago. There was no hint of anything about retirement."
There was very little mention of Ferguson on the websites of United's rivals. Of the Premier League's top sides, only Tottenham Hotspur ran a story paying tribute to the Scot. Manager Andre Villas-Boas said Ferguson was "the finest manager in world football". There was no mention on the Everton site that United were lining up their manager, David Moyes, as a replacement, while Liverpool, Arsenal ignored the news altogether.
England's rugby union coach, Stuart Lancaster, said: "What I most admire about him, besides his longevity, is his ability to keep his team at the top of the performance cycle by renewing things at the right time while maintaining the energy, the discipline and culture already within the group. To keep those standards through a season 60-plus games long is tiring enough. To do it for 20-odd years… he must be exhausted."
Their own words: Tributes pour in
"No one will be able to match his achievements... this is a sad day for English football."
"No one's made as great a contribution to the Premier League."
Richard Scudamore, Premier League Chief Executive
"An end of an era today. Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest of all time. United will have a tough time trying to replace him."
"Can't believe I'm saying this as the man was a thorn in our side for so long but what a manager Sir Alex Ferguson was."
"If it wasn't for my love of Newcastle, I'd have to have signed for Sir Alex." Alan Shearer
"My tribute in full: 'A rude, arrogant, obnoxious, relentless, ferocious, brilliant, whiny, hypocritical, bullying WINNER.'"
"Sir Alex, one of the best managers of all time. After 26 years of success in the game, we all owe him a tribute."
Vincent Kompany, Manchester City captain
Rivalries: How managers saw red
Ferguson wanted to knock Liverpool "off their perch" and United chased down their record 18 titles before overhauling it in 2011. Benitez lost his cool with the United manager during the 2009 title race, citing a series of "facts" about United that very nearly got a reaction from Old Trafford.
The 1996 title race riled Keegan to such an extent that the Newcastle manager famously lost his temper about Ferguson live on TV. United eventually won the title despite having been 12 points behind.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s United and Arsenal dominated each title race. Wenger only occasionally lost his cool in public with Ferguson, but on the pitch the clubs battled it out in a series of poisonous clashes.
When Mourinho took over at Chelsea in 2004 and another club could at last compete financially, it was no surprise a rivalry quickly developed. Suddenly it was Chelsea spoiling Ferguson's fun and, in Mourinho, he had a worthy foe.
Video: Praise for Sir Alex Ferguson
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