The announcement that Manchester United FC manager Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of the season was worldwide news on Wednesday, but in Portadown, Northern Ireland, it will have been noted with particular interest.
Sir Alex's decision to call time on his career after 26 years in charge of the Red Devils means the Scot will relinquish his title of Europe's longest-serving coach after the English champions' final game of the Premier League campaign, his 1,500th at the United helm, against West Bromwich Albion FC on 19 May.
That honour will pass to Portadown FC boss Ronnie McFall, who took the job six weeks after Sir Alex walked through the Old Trafford doors and embarked on a remarkable managerial journey yielding two UEFA Champions League titles, the European Cup Winners' Cup, UEFA Super Cup, 13 Premier League crowns and five FA Cups.
In 2011, Sir Alex paid tribute to the man who, unbeknown to him, would succeed him as European football's master of longevity. "I would just like to congratulate you on reaching that milestone which I experienced a few weeks ago – 25 years," he said to McFall.
"I know exactly what you are going through, all these emotions, frustrations, bad days, good days, you name it, you'll get them all in a 25-year spell. The amazing thing is you've survived. You've shown fantastic determination and conviction to get through these years because it's not an easy profession as we know."
Europe's longest-serving coaches
During UEFA's 59 years there have been figures to rival and even surpass McFall's staying power: Guy Roux's incredible 44 years at AJ Auxerre (1961–2005); Valeriy Lobanovskiy at FC Dynamo Kyiv (1974–1990 and 1997–2002); Foppe de Haan at SC Heerenveen (1985–2004). Nowadays, though, few come close to matching McFall's stint in the Portadown dugout.
Here UEFA.com tips its hat to the coaches who have spent ten years or more at a top-flight team in Europe, a select club that Sir Alex's replacement at United, David Moyes, is part of until he succeeds his compatriot. The 50-year-old will leave Everton FC after 11 years and over 500 fixtures on the bench, with the Merseyside outfit having finished seventh or higher in eight of his 11 full Premier League seasons.
Ronnie McFall, Portadown FC (Northern Ireland), since 1986
McFall was appointed by Portadown on 21 December 1986 (six weeks after Sir Alex started at United) and is considered one of the most successful managers in the Northern Irish game's history. The straight-talking former Dundee United FC defender has led Portadown to four league titles, including the club's first in 1990 – unprecedented achievements for a provincial side in a division traditionally dominated by Belfast duo Linfield FC and Glentoran FC.
Arsène Wenger, Arsenal FC (England), since 1996
"Arsène who?" asked the English tabloids when the Frenchman arrived at Highbury from Nagoya Grampus Eight in September 1996. They soon found out. During Wenger's near 17 years with the north London team, Arsenal have won the Premier League three times and the FA Cup four, as well as reaching UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup finals.
Thomas Schaaf, SV Werder Bremen (Germany), since 1999
The one-club man par excellence, Schaaf has been Bremen coach since 1999, 27 years after first pitching up at the Weserstadion as an 11-year-old in 1972. He won the Bundesliga twice as a player with Bremen as well the Cup Winners' Cup, and has since guided them as coach to the championship in 2004, three German Cups and the UEFA Cup final in 2009.
Pekka Lyyski, IFK Mariehamn (Finland), since 2002
In the third tier when Lyyski was installed, Mariehamn are now an established Veikkausliiga presence. Lyyski steered the club – based on the Aland Islands, an archipelago in the Baltic Sea – into the top flight for the first time following successive promotions in 2003 and 2004. Like Sir Alex, he has had to rebuild and mould a new team several times.
Nanne Bergstrand, Kalmar FF (Sweden), since 2003
Bergstrand coached Kalmar for two terms in the 1990s, but it was only after his return in 2003 that they became one of Sweden's foremost sides. Kalmar lifted the Swedish Cup in 2007, a first Allsvenskan title in 2008 and the Swedish Super Cup in 2009. Bergstrand also spent the 1981 and 1982 campaigns at Kalmar as a player, landing the cup in his first year.
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