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From Boston to Bangkok, every follower of soccer knows his face. They've seen it on TV for years. His nose glows red. His jaws pound on a wad of gum. His eyes hawkishly follow every play. Alex Ferguson is one of the most prominent figures in the world's most popular sport. He has been manager of Manchester United for more than a quarter of a century, and today, he announced he is retiring at the end of this season.
NPR's Philip Reeves reports.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Soccer fans don't often agree, but on this, there's a general consensus. Alex Ferguson is the most successful manager in British football and one of the greatest in the game's history.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Congratulations to the imperious Sir Alex...
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
REEVES: The season, Manchester United won the English premiership for the 13th time under Ferguson's stewardship. That trophy has gone into a cabinet stuffed with silverware - 38 trophies in all during Ferguson's nearly 27 years at the club.
Ferguson started out as a player in the rough world of Scottish soccer. Later, as a manager, he prove shrewd and ruthless. He's known for his mind games with opponents and for lambasting referees and players. Ferguson says flying off the handle is part of the game.
ALEX FERGUSON: There's nothing wrong with losing your temper if it's for the right reasons. I don't leave it till the next day. I don't believe in that.
MICHAEL CRICK: The thing about Ferguson, he had a number of personal attributes - huge intelligence, an amazing physical constitution, this ability to survive on three or four hours sleep a night, so it meant he'd be in the training ground first thing in the morning. He'd have all sorts of jobs done, work done before any of the players turned up.
REEVES: Michael Crick's author of a book about Ferguson called "The Boss." Crick says there's another side to Ferguson. Though he usually makes up in the end, Ferguson tends to fall out with people.
CRICK: And particularly, he was always falling out with journalists. He would ban people from his press conferences if they asked the mildest critical question.
REEVES: Manchester United is owned by the Florida-based Glazer family. Ferguson, who's 71, says he's leaving the club in the strongest possible shape. It's become one of world's most valuable sports franchises. Over the years, he's nurtured some of soccer's greatest players: Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, and more. That's why his resignation's caused dismay thousands of miles from Manchester to Ken Lai, of Manchester United Supporters' Club in Singapore.
KEN LAI: We wished that he stays on forever but it's not possible. We had hoped that the day would not be coming so fast, soon. But there's never a right time for this.
REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.
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