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Six of Fergie's Would-Be Replacements Down The Years

Declan Johnston
By Declan Johnston
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Every footballing flavour of the month for the last twenty six years has been identified as being Alex Ferguson's replacement at some point. Now that David Moyes looks set to take the United hot seat, it's worth looking at some of the managers touted as potential replacements for Ferguson over the years and where they have ended up. Some are very far away from the Theatre of Dreams.

1. David O'Leary 

There was a time when David O'Leary was the next big thing in English football. Leading a young Leeds team to the semi finals of the Champions League just as Alex Ferguson first announced his retirement for the end of the 2002 season Man United CEO Peter Kenyon had identified the Elland Road boss as a potential successor. Financial whizzkid and Leeds Chairman Peter Ridsdale claimed O'Leary would have been a fool to walk out on the five year plan they were building at Leeds. As it happened the only Leeds-Manchester United transfer that summer was Rio Ferdinand. Fergie reversed his retirement decison and Leeds ended the five year plan in the First Division.

Where are they now: After a largely unsuccessful spell at Aston Villa, O'leary had a brief stint at UAE side Al-Ahli, recently winning $5.2m from them in a FIFA tribunal.

2. Martin O'Neill

For a long time Marin O'Neill was considered the outstanding candidate to inherit the Old Trafford hot seat. With a no nonsense attitude picked up playing under Brian Clough and enjoying European success as both a player and a manager with Nottingham Forest and Celtic respectively, he was seen as the safe pair of hands David Moyes is now. A decade on from the zenith of his career at Celtic, O'Neill was never in the running when the time came to pick Ferguson's successor, with bookmakers offering odds of 80/1 on his appointment.

Where are they now: After a much debated spell at Aston Villa where he took them into Europe, but leaving the squad in a weak position he was sacked for the first time in his career after leading Sunderland into a relegation battle.


3. Roy Keane

Even before he hung up his playing boots, Roy Keane was earmarked as a potential Man Utd manager. Guus Hiddink once talked of how English football lacked 'managers on the pitch'. With an unrivaled will to win Keane was undoubtedly Ferguson's 'manager on the pitch', frequently exploding into full hairdryer mode mid-match. His early success at Sunderland only fueled the speculation but as things went sour at the Stadium of Light and then Ipswich, Keane found himself being linked with the Iceland job. Like so many of Ferguson's anointed successors over the years it was a long fall from grace.


Where are they now: The management gig never really worked out for Roy in the end and now he can be found, mellowed and bearded kicking back with old pals Lee Dixon and Gareth Southgate on ITV.


4.Louis van Gaal

In 2009 Louis van Gaal claimed that he had been offered the Man Utd job when Ferguson first contemplated retiring in 2002. "It was before the World Cup of 2002. I was in contact with Manchester United through Peter Kenyon. It was said to me that Alex Ferguson was going to retire.The moment he’d go, I’d succeed him. But in the end Ferguson didn’t want to quit!’’ Whether or not you want to believe van Gaal's claims, there was no doubt he had the pedigree, having taken Ajax to two Champions League finals and managed Barcelona. Van Gaal's role as footballing flavour of the month though was ended by Jason McAteer on a fateful afternoon in Dublin 4 when the Netherlands failed to qualify for for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Where are they now: After resigning from the Netherlands job, van Gaal won Dutch and German league titles with AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich before ending up exactly where he was the first time Ferguson 'retired', managing the Netherlands.


5. Steve McClaren

Steve McClaren took over from Brian Kidd as Man Utd's assistant manager in 1999, helping oversee the last six month's of the club's treble winning season. McClaren was (with retrospect somewhat bizarrely) seen as a sort of English Arsene Wenger, with his use of sports psychologists and video analysis. Playing Prince Charles to Alex Ferguson's Elizabeth, McClaren eventually got tired waiting for Ferguson to vacate the top spot and moved on for pastures new at Middlesbrough.

Where are they now: McClaren enjoyed success at the Riverside, winning the club's first trophy, the 2004 league cup, and leading them to a UEFA Cup final defeat against Sevilla. Following his stint as the wally with the brolly coaching England, he managed Dutch club Twente twice, although is currently unemployed.


6.Eric Cantona

This one never made sense. But it was the choice all football fans secretly wished for. Surely the only way to replace the stability and level headedness of Ferguson was with the unpredictable flawed genius of Cantona. We can only dream of the press conferences. The fact that he was only 50/1 this week shows how much the footballing community wanted this one to happen. Like Sam Allardyce signing Andy Carroll or Harry Redknapp and wealthy London club owners, some people are just meant to be together in football.

Where are they now: Where hasn't Cantona been? Since retiring from football he has been an actor, the Director of Football at the New York Cosmos, tried to incite a global revolution and ran for the President of France. Manager of Manchester United is just the next logical career step.


Picture credit: SHANE O' NEILL/Damien Eagers/Stephen McCarthy/Brendan Moran/Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE


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