Belfast Telegraph

Blair leads tributes to Ferguson

Tony Blair has hailed Sir Alex Ferguson as someone you would want in the trenches alongside you as he prepares for Friday's Old Trafford statue unveiling.

The tribute marks his remarkable 26 years at the United helm, and brought a level of success unprecedented in the English game. And for the former Prime Minister, a Newcastle fan, it merely underlines the qualities that set Ferguson apart from the rest.

"He is one of these people that has a strength of character that immediately marks him out as a leader of people," said Blair.

"He's a great competitor but he's also got huge integrity, to himself and to what he believes in.

"If you're in a tough situation and everything is coming down on top of you and you feel you're slowly getting surrounded by the people that want to put you in a deep dark pit, Alex is the type of person you'd want standing alongside you because you'd know you were [then able] to give whoever came after you a good fight."

The statue will be placed outside the stand that also bears his name.

Approaching his 71st birthday, there have been a few little signs, including the health scare Ferguson suffered in May, that have suggested the ceremony could be part of the end of his reign, and this season will be his last. But those who know him best do not give that impression.

And Charlton, who travelled back from Turkey with Ferguson after Wednesday's defeat to Galatasaray, is putting no timescale on the departure, knowing just how difficult he is going to be to replace.

"When we made the decision to go for him we didn't in our wildest dreams think that it would last as long as this," said Charlton. "But from the beginning he obviously made people aware of what he did and how he did it with regard to controlling players and how to work with [the club] management which is also very, very important.

"I won't see his like again, I'm certain of that. We're really lucky, and people are really envious of us. He was born to do this job and he's going to be with us as long as he wants."

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