David Beckham was cut above the eye when Ferguson, furious at his team's poor performance against Arsenal in 2003, kicked a boot in the changing room and it hit the midfielder in the face. Fed up with Beckham's celebrity lifestyle, Ferguson sold him to Real Madrid, but there was no lingering bitterness from the former England captain.
"The boss wasn't just the greatest and best manager I ever played under he was also a father figure to me from the moment I arrived at the club at the age of 11 until the day I left," Beckham, who now plays for Paris Saint-Germain, wrote on Facebook.
"Without him I would never have achieved what I have done in my career. He understood how important it was to play for your country and he knew how much it meant to me."
Ferguson's legacy will also include phrases which have entered the soccer lexicon. "Squeaky bum time" is how he referred to the tense finale to a season. "Fergie Time" was coined to describe the additional minutes given by a referee in stoppage time when United so often scored under Ferguson.
Talk of Ferguson leaving first surfaced following the club's golf day on Tuesday. When the official announcement came, it prompted an outpouring of tributes from inside and outside the game.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter said on Twitter that Ferguson's "achievements in the game place him without doubt as one of the 'greats'."
Michel Platini, president of the Union of European Football Associations, hailed Ferguson as a "true visionary."
The announcement even grabbed the British media spotlight from the buildup to the State Opening of Parliament, where Queen Elizabeth II, who knighted Ferguson in 1999, was setting out the government's planned legislation.
Prime Minister David Cameron, a member of the Conservative Party, hailing Ferguson as "a remarkable man in British football who has had an extraordinary, successful career."
Ferguson has defined the modern era of success at United, resuscitating the fortunes of a club that was floundering when he arrived. He came to the club after having won a European title at modest Aberdeen in Scotland.
While it took time for Ferguson to impose his leadership at Old Trafford, directors showed a degree of patience rarely afforded to current managers.
"In my early years, the backing of the board, and Sir Bobby Charlton in particular, gave me the confidence and time to build a football club, rather than just a football team," Ferguson said.
With his unwavering approach, Ferguson eventually produced his first trophy in 1990 — the FA Cup — and in 1993 the club won its first top division title since 1967.
Since then, he has ended Liverpool's dominance by overtaking its previous record of 18 English league titles, and preventing Chelsea, Arsenal and — most recently — Manchester City from establishing themselves as forces.
Now United will have to plan for a future without Ferguson in the dugout.
"Alex's vision, energy and ability have built teams — both on and off the pitch — that his successor can count on as among the best and most loyal in world sport," United's chief executive David Gill said.
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris
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