Manchester United Manager Ferguson Retires

Angel Martinez | Real Madrid via Getty Images

Long-running manager of U.K. soccer club Manchester United, Alex Ferguson, is retiring, the club announced on Wednesday.

Seventy one-year-old Ferguson has spent 26 years at the helm of one of the world's most successful and most supported soccer clubs. He has led the team to 13 Premier League titles and 2 European Champions League trophies and was knighted by the Queen in 1999.

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"The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly. It is the right time," Ferguson said on a statement on the club's website.

"It was important to me to leave an organization in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so. 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 set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one."

Ferguson will now have the role of both director and ambassador for the club. He is due to step aside as manager in two weeks time at the end of the season, after Manchester United are crowned champions for the twentieth time in the club's history.

Rumors of his departure featured in nearly all major British tabloid newspapers on Wednesday morning and had been fueled by an absence of any response from the club itself. It has previously denied similar rumors.

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United faced the added complication of being a public limited company that needs to adhere to the strict regulations of the New York Stock Exchange after its partial flotation last year. Any change of management, and the release of that information, would fall under those rules.

The bookmakers' favorite to replace Ferguson was fellow Scot David Moyes, currently manager of Everton. He is set to be out of contract at the end of the season. However, following confirmation of Ferguson's departure, Jose Mourinho, currently in charge of Spanish side Real Madrid rose to take the top spot.

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In its latest earnings report, Manchester United reported it was on course to post more than 350 million pounds ($545 million) in revenue for its fiscal year, after earning a record 91.7 million pounds ($143 million) in the three months to March 31.—By's Matt Clinch; Follow him on Twitter @ mattclinch81