Recently it has been the opinion of many in the game, and observers of it, that Ferguson will chose to continue at Old Trafford only until the end of next season, and it is a view that has now been supported by Ferguson's son, Darren. The Peterborough manager is of the opinion that his father wants to take United to one more league title, so that United equal Liverpool's record of 18. Once that is completed, Ferguson Jnr explained, the United manager will likely stand down.
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David Gill, the chief executive at Old Trafford, has no doubt be compiling dossiers on the men most capable of taking up the mantle for some time, for it will be his job to advise the Glazer family, in conjunction with Ferguson himself, one suspects, on who to chose as successor. Now, his preparations for that moment will likely gather pace.
Here are the 10 most likely candidate:
David Moyes: The Everton manager is fast becoming seen as the most suitable replacement for his fellow Scot. Just as able to get his players to perform to the best of their abilities as Ferguson, Moyes has shown aptitude on the transfer market with the signing of Mikel Arteta, and clearly has the respect of his players and peers, having taken Everton into the top four. Crucially, with Wayne Rooney, Moyes demonstrated the essential ability to nurture young talent. The 45-year-old has probably gone as far as he can with Everton, and would relish the challenge at United.
Jose Mourinho: Every man and his dog knows that the self-styled Special One has more than a hankering to replace Ferguson. The Portuguese has proven himself in the Champions League, in England, and he can certainly deal with the big names on United's books. Moreover, Ferguson and he share a fondness for one another. Whether Mourinho's tactical approach would dovetail with the United camp's commitment to attacking football is a question critics will voice when the time comes, as well as the Inter Milan manager's tendency to consider himself, rather than the club, the centre of the universe.
Martin O'Neill: The Aston Villa manager was for some time considered the heir apparent at Old Trafford. He has worked his way through the ranks, and proven himself in the cauldron of Scottish football with Celtic. He has the Ferguson trait of being able to extract the maximum from his players, and an eye for talent spotting if his purchase of Ashley Young is anything to go by. He is certainly ambitious enough to want the top job in club football, but does he possess the tactical nous necessary for the role?
Carlo Ancelotti: Known as the Italian Ferguson, Ancelotti has proved his European pedigree by winning the Champions League twice, in 2003 and 2007, on both occasions with AC Milan. He has also shown much-respected signs of commitment, having been with the Italian club since 2001. That loyalty could prove a problem – after all, Chelsea failed to lure him to Stamford Bridge last year. But it is expected that United would stand a better chance should they want him.
Carlos Queiroz: Ferguson, who will have a key role to play in tipping the balance, has previously endorsed his former assistant's credentials for the role, and his five years spent at the club will surely have stood him in good stead. His time at Portugal has done his case no favours, however, and he only lasted ten months at Real Madrid. The United board might well consider him more suited to the number two role.
Fabio Capello: Capello's current contract as England manager runs for two-and-a-half years, so it would expire at just the right time, if Darren Ferguson is right. The Italian has managed at AC Milan, Roma, Juventus and Real Madrid, and won the Champions League. However, one expects that the Football Association would be loath to let him leave, and with an annual pay in the region of £6m, the financial incentive with England would surely be greater. Not to mention the chance of sporting immortality in this country that success would bring.
Mark Hughes: Hughes has had both international and club success with Wales and Blackburn, and was even considered for the Chelsea role when Mourinho was dismissed. The former United midfielder's dealings on the transfer market are highly regarded, although his time at Manchester City has been less than perfect. Spats with high profile names such as Robinho could count against him, while crossing the city divide into the red part of town could prove too much. However, he would not be in it for the short term, and he certainly has something to prove.
Marcello Lippi: Lippi has the ability and experience required to take over the Old Trafford hot seat. Manager of the Italian national side at present, he has helmed Juventus and Inter Milan. As well as winning the World Cup with Italy in 2006, Lippi has shown club credentials by securing the Champions League. What's more, he is great friends with Ferguson. However, his faulty command of the English language could prove a sticking point, as has the fact that he has never been tested outside of Italy.
Steve Bruce: The Wigan manager is an unlikely choice, despite being highly regarded at Old Trafford for his time spent there as a player and captain. However, he deserves consideration. As far as natural successors go, Bruce would probably be first in line, and he has also served a proper apprenticeship. He is good with the media, and obviously has a keen eye on the transfer market, having brought in the unknown Egyptian Amr Zaki. Whether his time with Birmingham City and Wigan have prepared him for the top job are another matter.
Roy Keane: Once described by Ferguson as his chosen successor, the former United captain would command serious respect in the Manchester United dressing room – but for how long? Keane may have brought Sunderland to the Premier League, but he lacks the experience required at this level, and the manner of his departure from Sunderland would raise questions as to his temperament and dedication to the role. His acrimonious departure from Old Trafford, meanwhile, still rankles.