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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
I have a dream. I have a dream of Rome, May 27. I see Rio Ferdinand lifting the Champions League trophy, I see Wayne Rooney throwing his shirt into the crowd, but most of all, I see Sir Alex Ferguson leaning into a camera crew and, above the roar of the crowd, giving them the scoop of their lives.

"That's it for me, lads. I quit."

The annals of football history are littered with the poisoned legacies of those who went on too long. Brian Clough's achievements are tarnished by our final memory of him at Bramall Lane, tears rolling down his crimson cheeks as Nottingham Forest were relegated with a whimper. Bobby Robson should have sensed which way the wind was blowing at St James Park and got out with his dignity before lesser men tried to rob him of it. I don't want to remember Ferguson as anything less than a winner.

He has fallen foul of this delicate issue in the past. He famously reversed his decision to retire in 2002 when the speculation over his successor destroyed the form of his players and contributed to an unprecedented third place finish. He stayed on, kicked some bottoms and the title was duly reclaimed in 2003. Did he quit then? Nope, he gambled and three barren years followed. Roman Abramovich's wealth had raised the bar so far above his head that his players were reduced to celebrating their 2006 League Cup win over Wigan as if it actually meant something. For those three long years there was a suspicion that football had moved on and left him behind.

Of course, we know now that it hadn't. Those years chasing the coat-tails of Jose Mourinho were spent reconfiguring the team into the slick operation you see today. But it was concerning, wasn't it? I spoke to a number of United fans in that period who were convinced that his powers had faded and that he needed to be replaced. There were protests against him at Carrington! Now I'm not a Manchester United fan, I prefer my Uniteds to be of the Southend variety, but no-one wants to see a legend slipping out into the shadows like that.

Ferguson is the greatest football manager of all time. Bob Paisley was the most successful, albeit after inheriting a winning side and Clough was the miracle worker who won the league with two unfashionable, provincial clubs. Ferguson has done it all. He started at the bottom with East Stirlingshire, worked his way up through St Mirren and Aberdeen, took on the crippled giant that was Manchester United in 1986 and then fashioned four great generations of teams; 1993, 1996, 1999, 2007.

If United pick up a point tonight, as they surely will, it will be only the fifth time in English football history that a team has won a third consecutive league championship. Only Huddersfield in the 20s, Arsenal in the 30s, Liverpool in the 80s and United themselves at the start of this century have ever managed such a feat. If he wants to leave on a high, now would be a good time.

Just imagine if he stays and United fade next season. If Liverpool strengthen and beat them to the title. If Chelsea ever get their act together and appoint a manager for more than six months. If Arsenal's youngsters come of age. How long do you think the Glazers would give a 70 year old to get it right? Probably about as long as Freddy Shepherd gave Sir Bobby.

Ferguson doesn't owe anything to anyone. He has the luxury of being able to choose how he leaves the club. If Manchester United beat Barcelona in Rome, I sincerely hope that he makes the right choice.