Sat, May 11, 2013, 01:00

The loyalty he learned back in Govan has been, Alex Ferguson once said, the rock upon which he has built his life and career. Manchester United came to know all about it over his time at Old Trafford with the 71-year-old opting to stay put when rivals came calling in the hope of luring him away. They showed him some too, of course; especially early on when he was given time to get things right even as some within the board and many in the stands grew impatient for success. It was, in short, a rare, almost unique, relationship by the standards of modern day professional sport but an enormously rewarding one for both parties.

During his 26 years at the club, Ferguson shook up not just United but British football management generally and his influence was to be felt far further afield. His teams achieved less success on the European stage than might have been expected given their dominance in England but in addition to winning the Champions League twice he contributed greatly to an internationally recognised improvement in standards both on and off the pitch.

In recent years, a number of younger, charismatic continental coaches had taken centre stage but Ferguson, despite his age and somewhat traditional values, never looked remotely outdated. Rather, he relished the emergence of each new rival as a challenge to be met and overcome.

Behind the sometimes charming façade, Ferguson could be utterly ruthless with players or, indeed, members of the press who he believed were posing the slightest threat to his goal of complete control over team affairs. Even those who fell foul of him, however, tended to recognise his remarkable qualities and many contributed this week to the tributes that followed the announcement of his retirement.

It has been suggested that, given the way football has developed, a career like his will never be repeated. That might be overstating it but it will be some time before we see the necessary combination of character and circumstance.