Ferguson hesitates on plan to retire


Manchester United yesterday declined to comment on hints by Alex Ferguson that he might change his mind about retiring at the end of the season.

The United manager admitted in several British Sunday newspapers that he may have a rethink as he nears the end of his contract at Old Trafford.

He said: "At the moment my mind is made up about retiring at the end of the season. Is there any possibility of me changing my mind? I don't think so, but you never know what might happen."

Ferguson, who turns 60 today, added: "I am still as hungry to win things as I ever have been. That hasn't changed. I am still enjoying the job very much."

It has quickly become clear to United chief executive Peter Kenyon that replacing Ferguson is going to be nigh-on impossible. However, it appears there are no plans for the United board to make further attempts to persuade Ferguson to stay on as manager when his contract expires at the end of this season.

The search for his replacement looks set to be stepped up in the new year, although several of the club's possible targets appear to have already ruled themselves out of the running for the Old Trafford hot-seat.

United's reported number one target, Sven-Goran Eriksson, claims he will not walk out on England, while the other leading contenders - Ottmar Hitzfeld, Marcello Lippi, Arsene Wenger and David O'Leary - have all said they are not interested in the job.

Leeds manager O'Leary yesterday declared he has no intention of walking out of Elland Road and denied rumours of a rift between himself and Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale over the publication and serialisation of the Irishman's book, Leeds United On Trial, immediately after the court case involving Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate.

"I will stay at Leeds for as long as they will have me," O'Leary told the Sunday People. "I am hungry for success - success for Leeds."

He added: "Some stories have made it look as if I have been begging to go to Old Trafford. David O'Leary has never begged for anything in his life. This is not me ruling myself out of the United job, because I have never ruled myself in."

O'Leary maintained he would honour his current agreement. "I have signed a contract here. I have a very good relationship with my chairman and the supporters. I have had people coming up to me in the streets asking about going to Old Trafford, but I say here and now, I am the manager of Leeds.

"There is no rift between myself and the chairman. We are a team. I like working with him. I think he likes working with me."

O'Leary was yesterday being linked with a £7 million sterling move for Real Madrid's Steve McManaman. According to speculation in sections of the Spanish media, the transfer will go ahead if personal terms can be agreed.

Meanwhile, Blackburn Rovers manager Graeme Souness has said that the ambition of playing in next year's World Cup was instrumental in Andrew Cole's £7.5 million sterling transfer to Ewood Park from Manchester United.

Ferguson may have been loath to weaken his squad by selling Cole, but the striker realised that life on the substitute's bench was no way to impress England manager Eriksson.

Cole was left out of the 1998 World Cup finals squad by Glenn Hoddle and missed Euro 2000 due to injury.

Souness said: "I know he wants to go to the World Cup, though he may not admit it, and I'm sure we are going to help him do that.

"He has had a great career at Manchester United, he's got his medals, he's got his cash and he wants to come here and play for fun."