Jamie Whitehead doffs his cap to a managerial legend.

It’s been the day we’ve all been expecting, yet it’s still come compounded with a sense of unexpected shock, as this morning Manchester United have confirmed the retirement of manager Sir Alex Ferguson after twenty-six years in charge.

We all knew Ferguson wouldn’t go on forever. One Twitter user this morning summed up the feeling of most of us by saying “I always just thought it would be another two or three years” For an entire generation of football fans, myself included, has never known Manchester United without him sat at the helm.

Ferguson was not just the manager of Manchester United. He was Manchester United. He took the club to it’s first league title in twenty six years, it’s fitting he should step down after the same number of years. With the opening mission statement of “Knocking Liverpool off their f****** perch” and doing so so compulsively, it is without doubt that whoever succeeds Ferguson has a massive hole to fill. Not just in the sense of carrying on from a record 20th league title, but also in the sense of acquiring the love of the Stretford End. The new manager, whoever that may be, will have a constant reminder of Ferguson as he takes his seat in the home dugout, sat opposite the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.

It’s pointless speculating who that name will be. The two Ms of Moyes and Mourinho have been kicking around for years. We know that the successor is in place, as United have announced that he will be in place within forty-eight hours. Last week when Jose Mourinho said “One club really loves me” Who was he actually talking about? The Mourinho PR machine went into overdrive last week and it does make you question as he was listing all of his achievements Benetez style last week, who was he really trying to impress? And what was Mourinho really trying to achieve in March when he left the dugout whilst Real Madrid’s victory over United was still in progress? However, the Press Association are saying he’s not, and never has been, in the running.

Like Sir Matt Busby before him, Ferguson’s legacy will shine over Old Trafford forever more. Love him or loathe him, it’s impossible not to have an opinion on him. With the exception of Arsene Wenger, no one will ever leave an imprint on a club so strongly in the way he has again. The achievements don’t need to be listed again, we all know what the man has achieved.

In his twenty-six years in charge, Ferguson’s loyalty to the club and players never once,wavered. As time has gone on, ex players have discussed fallouts with him that we never heard about. Andy Cole recently spoke of a post match argument when he was at United and Ferguson blamed the referee. Picking up a £12,000 fine in the process. No one ever knew he’d referred to Cole as a ‘Useless shit’ Mourinho is credited for creating the siege mentality and the Cult of Personality, Ferguson was doing it years ago, just far less publicly.

You could argue that Manchester United got lucky. They’ve always been one of Football’s biggest names. And with the formation of the Premier League in 1992, as money, squad numbers and SKY were coming in, United were in the right place at the right time. The term Fergie Time was coined after the seven minutes injury time awarded to United in a game against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993. These seven minutes allowed Steve Bruce to score twice and bring the title to Old Trafford. For years I wondered had that not happened, how would that have affected second placed Aston Villa? Had they gone on and won that title, would Villa have gone on to be as successful as United? As a young naive Villa supporter, I thought we would have. But no. United would have waited one year and claimed it then. And Ron Atkinson would have been seen off (again) just like Dalglish, Graham, Keegan, Robson, Evans, Houllier, Benetez, Mourinho, Grant, Scolari, Hiddink, Ancelotti and countless others were in the pursuit of dislodging Manchester United from Football’s top table. If he had stayed for two more years, you could well have added Roberto Mancini to that list.

There’s been many legends down the years at Manchester United. None more so than this one. Whatever your opinion on him, football will certainly be a much quieter place without him.

And a quick note to Martin O’Neill. If you hadn’t thrown your toys out of the pram at Villa Park, I genuinely believe you would have been in the running, there. Have a think about that.