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Whenever Fergie calls it a day, he'll leave Manchester United in a strong position to build on the structure he's created, says a United legend...

Speculation is rife about the managerial succession at Old Trafford after Darren Ferguson, son of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, hinted this week that his 67-year-old father could retire at the end of next season.

Now a famous former United player has added an interesting insight to the debate. Alex Stepney was the United goalkeeper from 1966 until 1978, making 433 League apearances for the club. His career at Old Trafford spanned the time in 1969 when Sir Matt Busby stepped down as manager.

That precipitated a crisis at the club, but Stepney feels things will be a lot less traumatic when Ferguson eventually calls it a day, and that United will be able to build on the legacy he will leave behind.  

Ferguson marked 22 years at the helm last November, and has previously insisted he won't stay in the job beyond his 70th birthday. He has also said his health will be the major factor in any decision about his future.
Within five years of Busby's original retirement (he was forced to return for a while to steady the ship), United were relegated to the old Second Division; but Stepney reckons the club is far better placed to cope with the eventual retirement of Ferguson.

He told The Telegraph, "Sir Alex's exit will present a much bigger situation for the club than Matt's departure. It will be a global event, but managers from all over the globe will want the job.

"The only way to ensure a totally smooth transition would be for Sir Alex to move upstairs in some capacity, but that never works.

"Sir Matt tried that and it failed, but then he didn't leave behind the kind of structure and depth that Sir Alex has created."

Stepney himself is not yet convinced that Ferguson will in fact stand down next year. He said: "We'll see what happens, but from my point of view, I hope he goes on until they carry him out in a box!"

Graham Lister,