Ferguson's retirement shocks Manchester United's global fans

Wed May 8, 2013 11:21am EDT
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By Joe Brock and David Stamp

ABUJA/LONDON May 8 (Reuters) - Nigeria, they say, has almost as many Manchester United fans as there are Canadians on the planet - 33 million.

Such a figure is hard to verify, but a big contingent of the English soccer team's huge global following undoubtedly lives in the West African nation.

So many Nigerians, like fellow Manchester United supporters from Europe to Asia, were stunned by Wednesday's announcement that veteran manager Alex Ferguson will retire.

"Club football will never be the same again. There are star coaches, there are superstar coaches, there are megastar coaches, and then there is Alex Ferguson," said Sadiq Abdullateef, 38, a lifelong fan in Nigeria's capital, Abuja.

Ferguson, a 71-year-old Scotsman, steps down later this month after 26 years in charge at the club, during which time he became the most successful manager in English soccer history.

Under Ferguson, the club has become a "global brand", and in a survey published last year it claimed to have 659 million followers worldwide, including the 33 million in Nigeria.

Emotions were high on Wednesday in China, where United says it has a following of 108 million. "I never imagined that he would disappear from my world of football. That kind of feeling of not knowing what to do is really awful, and I am not alone," wrote "Hupu Tristan" on Weibo, China's version of Twitter - who admitted to not even being a Manchester United supporter.

In India, fans hailed Ferguson's showmanship. "Standing on the touchline, chewing gum and yelling at players and referees, he was an added entertainment," Dyutiman Basu, a 19-year-old student in Delhi, told Reuters.   Continued...