12 years after flirting with the idea of retirement, Sir Alex Ferguson finally called time on his remarkably successful spell with Manchester United.
Alex Ferguson identified David Moyes as the man who should replace him when he brought an end to his managerial career but if he had bowed out in 2002, as was his original plan, he had three other candidates in mind.
That revelation came from an interview in The Athletic with Celtic’s primary shareholder Dermot Desmond, who had attempted to lure Ferguson to Parkhead in the late 1990s.
At the turn of the millennium, Desmond returned to Ferguson with a request to name three managers he rated so highly that he would have felt comfortable with them replacing him.
Ferguson named David O’Leary, then at Leeds, and Alan Curbishley, then at Charlton, as two candidates while also pinpointing Martin O’Neill, then at Leicester, who would ultimately get the job at Celtic.
Desmond explained: “I had asked Alex Ferguson to be manager of Celtic around 1997 and I offered to pay the money myself, twice the salary he was on at Manchester United. He said he would like to consider it, even though he had a Rangers background. He said, ‘I’d like to do it, to follow in the footsteps of Jock Stein,’ but he said his overriding ambition was to win the Champions League with Manchester United. In fact, my good friend JP McManus and I were his guests at the (1999) final in Barcelona, where he fulfilled his dream.
“In 2000, I went back and asked him if he was to pick his replacement at that time who would it be. He said there were three people: Dave O’Leary, Alan Curbishley and Martin O’Neill. I said the one I’m interested in is Martin O’Neill.”
Ferguson, who didn’t actually have to pick a replacement until 2013, ultimately played a role in getting O’Neill to Celtic.
Desmond explained that he asked Ferguson to make initial contact with O’Neill with a view to setting up a meeting with the Derryman.
Desmond continued: “I had previously asked a prominent broadcaster if Martin would be interested in the job and I got a response in the negative. I then asked Alex if he would speak with Martin, to see if he would meet with me, and the response was that he would be very interested in meeting.
“So I met Martin for dinner and we got on very well. I introduced him to Pat and Brian and they also felt he was a remarkable individual, so we hired Martin.”