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The names of three managers Sir Alex Ferguson thought could replace him before his first planned Manchester United retirement in 2000 have been revealed.
Apparently David O'Leary, Alan Curbishley and Martin O'Neill were the shortlist of men Fergie would have recommended, had he gone through with his retirement plan. As it was, he changed his mind and carried on for another 13 trophy-filled years in Manchester.
The news comes via Celtic chief Dermot Desmond in an exclusive interview with The Athletic, where he confesses that he actually asked Ferguson to become manager of Celtic in 1997 and offered to pay him "twice the salary he was on at Manchester United."
Lord Ferg chose to stay at Old Trafford but was more accommodating when Desmond came to him three years later and enquired who he originally thought of as his successor.
"In 2000, I went back and asked him if he was to pick his replacement at that time who would it be," Desmond told The Athletic.
"He said there were three people: Dave O'Leary, Alan Curbishley and Martin O'Neill. I said the one I'm interested in is Martin O'Neill.
"I had previously asked a prominent broadcaster if Martin would be interested in the job and I got a response in the negative. I then asked Alex if he would speak with Martin, to see if he would meet with me, and the response was that he would be very interested in meeting."
O'Neill went on to have a highly successful five-year spell as Celtic manager - but in an alternative universe he could have been manager of Manchester United.
The Northern Irishman had worked wonders on small budgets at Wycombe and Leicester. While the job would've been a big step up, he was widely seen as a terrific up-and-coming manager 20 years ago.
In hindsight, O'Leary and Curbishley seem like bizarre choices for one of the biggest jobs in world football. Yet the sporting landscape was a different place in 2000.
O'Leary was busy turning a promising young Leeds side into Premier League and European contenders. Curbishley's name was less glamorous, but he had done a superb long-term job in solidifying Charlton Athletic as a consistent Premier League side.
However the stock of neither would be so high a few seasons later, with O'Leary in particular seeing his reputation absolutely nose dive. O'Leary was sacked by Leeds in 2002 after the bid-spending club dropped out of the European places - and his next spell at Aston Villa was a disappointment.
Curbishley left Charlton in 2006, then did a good job at West Ham for two years, but hasn't managed since 2008. It's safe to say that despite his fine legacy at Charlton, he never quite became the managerial great outside of that club some tipped him to become - including Fergie, apparently.
Safe to say that Man United fans can count their lucky stars that Ferguson chose to stay on and that - with respect to O'Neill - the Scot was not allowed to choose his successor in 2000. Though - given the struggles David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have had in succeeding Sir Alex - can this trio have really done much worse?
Frankly, it's still not too late to see if Fergie was right all along and give each of O'Leary, Curbs and O'Neill a spin in the coming seasons. (Liverpool and Manchester City fans like this.)
All imagery: PA Images
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