Alex Ferguson has revealed that loyalty to his wife, Cathy, was the key factor in his decision to retire from football management at the end of the current season.
The 71-year-old Scot enjoyed an emotion-charged farewell in Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Swansea City at Old Trafford on Sunday, his last home game after more than 26 years in charge of the new English champions.
The fixture came just four days after Ferguson’s announcement that he is to retire stunned the football world and, after the celebrations that followed the victory, he took time to explain the reasons behind his decision for the first time. “Around last Christmas,” said Ferguson, when asked when he had decided to bring an end to his reign.
“Basically, things changed when Cathy’s sister died. She is isolated a lot now and I think a lot of the time, for 47 years, she has been the leader of the family, looked after our three sons and sacrificed herself for me.
“Now she has the grandchildren, and they all dote on her, but now she has lost her best friend -- her sister -- so that was important. “I think it is also important to go out as a winner. That is really important at this club. It is all I ever wanted to do here -- be a winner.”
Ferguson and United had hoped to delay the announcement until later in the build-up to the Swansea game, only for rumours to run rife through Manchester on Tuesday following a club golf day. “It was very difficult to keep it a secret,” added Ferguson.
“There were some times when we almost blurted it out to the family. We told our sons in March, but my brother didn't know until Tuesday night. I wanted to tell the players first really, the players and the staff.
“But unfortunately, there were rumours going around on Tuesday. So all that started to speed it up a bit.” Fittingly, given United’s track record of scoring dramatic late goals on Ferguson’s watch, United beat Swansea with an 87th-minute winner from Rio Ferdinand after Swansea’s Michu had cancelled out Javier Hernandez's opening goal.
Ferguson confessed that such late drama is the one aspect of football management he will most miss. “The last-minute goals. I love them,” he smiled. “We lost a few, but it’s part of the history as well. It is hard to look back. I have never done that, but I have plenty of time to do that now.
The most important achievement, without doubt, was winning the first league (in 1993). Once we did that, a door opened. We just grew and grew after that and saw some fantastic changes.
There have been some great players and it has been an honour to manage them; different personalities and different cultures. It has been a fantastic challenge of management.”