Sir Alex Ferguson: Has he already set a retirement date?

Football FanCast columnist Alex Dimond looks at Sir Alex's retirement plans and wonders whether eclipsing
Liverpool would be the perfect finale to his glittering career.

As a manager, Sir Alex Ferguson has few peers. The Scot, who has managed St.
Mirren, Aberdeen and Manchester United during a successful career, is widely
accepted as one of the greatest managers world football has ever seen.

Ferguson has won more trophies than any other manager in English football,
and at Old Trafford is rightfully revered in the same way as club legends Sir
Matt Busby or Sir Bobby Charlton. In his 22 year stint at the helm, he has won
ten Premiership titles, five FA Cups and two league cups. In Europe he has
added two Champions League crowns and a Cup Winner's Cup to the Red Devil's
illustrious history.

Put simply, Ferguson has become synonymous with the club.

As such, fans have become pre-occupied with Ferguson's retirement plans. The
66-year-old has only fuelled such concerns, having publically admitted he did
not plan to stay beyond 2011 (when he
would be 70
).

This is not the first time Ferguson has made retirement plans, however. In
2002, he infamously changed his mind about stepping down in during that summer.
As a result, many are not convinced the Scot feels any differently this time
around.

Ferguson, however, maintains that his intentions this time are clear-in his
own mind at least. As he told the Daily
Mirror
:

"I have a plan, there's no
question about that."

The problem, however, is that only he knows what that plan is.

Indeed, many of those closest to the Scot refuse to contend such a
concrete schedule really exists. As United Chief Executive, David Gill,
commented:

"[Ferguson] hasn't said to me that he
has a timeline,"
he told the Daily
Mail
earlier this year. "We haven't
discussed that. There have been some comments about being 70, but Alex's
guiding principle on whether he stays has always been about whether he is
healthy and has the desire-I'm sure he will have that."

"It's still three-and-a-half
years away; we will look at it at that time."

It is very hard to identify what exactly motivates the Scot to continue
working so diligently in Manchester. He has won more trophies, been more
successful in Europe, and signed more quality players than almost any other
manager in world football.

In terms of career progression, he is at the very pinnacle. As such, he
could be forgiven for losing his hunger. This obviously hasn't happened.

Unlike many of his contemporaries then, there must be a more fundamental
reason driving him-an inherent desire above and beyond his own self-interest.

That inspiration comes from an obvious source-the club and fans whose hopes
and fears have guided him for the last two decades. It is his rapport for the
75 000 that pack out Old Trafford every week that keep him striving to bring
the success they crave.

The problem for the Scot, however, is that his family have different ideas.
His wife Cathy-who was so instrumental in convincing her husband to continue in
2002-has recently spoken of her desire for Sir Alex to retire in the near
future.

Concerned by the stresses of management (which
will have only been heightened by Carlos Queiroz's departure
), she wants
him to be able to enjoy a healthy retirement, and pursue some of his other
interests, including horse racing. As a result, she has been instrumental in "setting" a 2011 deadline, giving
Ferguson just three more years to achieve any remaining career goals.
Fortunately for Ferguson, there is just one milestone that eludes him.

At the moment, Liverpool are still England's most successful domestic
side-thanks to 18 championship titles. Manchester United are currently second,
with 17. Ferguson must surely have targeted 19 titles-snatching the status of
"English football's most successful club" from his arch-rivals.

The prospect is intriguing. Even when he joined United, way back in 1986, in
one of his first comments to the press he expressed his desire to "knock Liverpool off their f*****g perch".
He later described the task as "my
greatest challenge
"
.

If the Scot were to finally and indisputably manage this at the end of his
Old Trafford career, it would provide some fitting symmetry.

Ferguson has always had a barely concealed hatred for Liverpool, as
illustrated only last year when he responded to a question from The People, enquiring whether he would
like to see the Anfield club end their title drought: "You must be joking. Do I look as if I'm a
masochist ready to cut myself? How does relegation sound instead?
"

Overhauling Liverpool's record of 18 titles would be a perfect final career
goal-it serves as a target for the Scot to strive for, while simultaneously
offering reassurance to his family that he will not be dealing with managerial
stresses for much longer.

Realistically, the goal should be achieved in the next two or three years.
Although Chelsea, Arsenal and, indeed, Liverpool might have something to say
about that.

In his book, United We Stand, Kevin Ramsden noted that Sir Alex "goes to more funerals than anybody I have
ever met.
"
As a manager, perhaps Ferguson will be hoping the last ceremony
he attends will be to mourn the end of Liverpool's reign as England's greatest
ever club.

It would be a fitting end to a remarkable career.