Alex Ferguson is retiring at the end of the season, bringing close a trophy-filled career of more than 26 years at Manchester United that established him as the most successful coach in British football history.

“The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly,” the 71-year-old Scotsman said in a statement on Wednesday.

The club, which is owned by the American Glazer family and listed on the New York Stock Exchange, did not immediately announce a successor.

Since taking charge at Old Trafford in 1986, Ferguson has won a total of 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League championships, two Champions League titles and five FA Cups.

Ferguson had reversed a previous plan to retire at the end of the 2001-02 season.

After United secured its latest Premier League title two weeks ago extending the club’s record English championship haul to 20, Ferguson had declared that he had no retirement thoughts. But now he has just two more league matches left in charge of the club which he has turned into one of the world’s biggest sports powers.

“It was important for me to leave an organization in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so,” Ferguson said. “The quality of this league winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level whilst the structure of the youth setup will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one.”

Ferguson has previously said only health problems would force him to relinquish the job, and it emerged over the weekend that he requires hip surgery. However, the retirement statement did not mention health issues.

More than a manager

Ferguson will continue to loom large at United as he will remain as a club director and ambassador.

Ferguson has defined the modern era of success at United, resuscitating the fortunes of a club that was floundering when he arrived more than a quarter of a century ago, having won a European title at modest Aberdeen in Scotland.

While it took time for Ferguson to impose his leadership at Old Trafford, directors showed a degree of patience rarely afforded to current managers.

Ferguson eventually produced his first trophy the FA Cup in 1990 and 1993 as the club won its first topflight title since 1967.

Since then, he has turned United into a European power and one of the world’s wealthiest sports clubs. In addition to Champions League titles in 1999 and 2008, United has also won four League Cups and the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup.

“In my early years, the backing of the board, and Sir Bobby Charlton in particular, gave me the confidence and time to build a football club, rather than just a football team,” Ferguson said. “Over the past decade, the Glazer family have provided me with the platform to manage Manchester United to the best of my ability.”

Ferguson thanked his players for their “staggering level of professional conduct and dedication that has helped to deliver so many memorable triumphs.”

“We knew that his retirement would come one day and we both have been planning for it by ensuring the quality of the squad and club structures are in first-class condition,” chief executive David Gill said.

Gill told The Associated Press two weeks ago that Ferguson’s successor would have to adapt to the existing squad and support team rather than making radical changes.

Before United was listed on the NYSE last year, the club warned that “any successor to our current manager may not be as successful as our current manager.”

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