Former Manchester United assistant coach Rene Meulensteen has revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson hard targeted Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus ahead of making the decision to retire in May 2013.
The Scot had wrapped up his 13th Premier League title at the club against Aston Villa with four games of the season left.
Man United supporters already had their minds fixed on another season of dominating the top flight, but then Ferguson – largely out of nowhere – announced a few days later that he would retire from management in the summer, sending shockwaves across the football world.
And Meulensteen has noted that even as assistant he was unaware of Ferguson’s plan to retire, noting how the pair had targeted the German trio ahead of the summer.
“The fact that he was going to retire or finish came to me and a lot of others as a complete bombshell,” he said. “He was as sharp as ever. He was always an early bird, always arriving early at Carrington. I didn’t read anything in him where it suggested it would be his last season.”
“We had very normal staff meetings regarding pre-season. That year we were going to Australia. Sir Alex even mentioned taking us to one of the best vineyards out there.
“I was looking forward to that! We had possible scouting meetings, possible players we were looking at in terms of trying to build a picture of what we think we need. All that was ongoing.
“We looked at a few German players like Hummels, who went to Bayern Munich. I think we looked at Gundogan and Reus, too. There was a number of players but we never got that specific to really target them.”
Ferguson was probably right to keep his plan to retire under wraps. The campaign would have felt remarkably different and certainly reaped less success. Very rarely do teams play to their full potential when they know their manager will be off in the summer.
But the sheer shock of the announcement – that feeling right in your gut when your brain was trying to process the news, still refusing to fully absorb and appreciate the sheer gravity of what was happening.
And just like me, sitting in my ICT classroom plaintively staring at a monitor, the United board and players responded with a similar sense of sheer disbelief from which they took considerable time to recover from. In fact, you could argue that this club – collectively – still hasn’t really moved on from the hammer blow of the Ferguson leaving.