Ferguson's retirement shocks Manchester United's global fans

Updated: 2013-05-09 10:09


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The only sport that counts

To many Nigerians, soccer is the only sport that counts, and the English Premiership is the only league they follow, at the expense even of the domestic game.

Passions about the fortunes of Manchester United and its rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool run every bit as high in Nigeria as they do back in Britain. Possibly more so.

Nigerians choose their premiership team for all sorts of reasons. Many flocked to Arsenal a decade ago when Nigerian international Nwankwo Kanu played for the north London team. Some even decided to support Bolton Wanderers, a northern team with conspicuously less success in modern times, when compatriot Jay-Jay Okchoa played there from 2002-2006.

But most are Manchester United fans out of respect for Ferguson and his success in the English and European games. "He has made the impossible possible during his reign as the coach of Man U," said Samson Belimote, a 20-year-old student living in the southern Nigerian oil region.

Top Premier League matches are great social occasions. Nigerians watch on anything from tiny TVs to giant screens erected in open "Bush Gardens" in the country's cities and villages. Beer flows freely, raising passions and provoking the odd scuffle between rival fans.

Supporters wear their teams' shirts, some authorized by the clubs but most produced by an energetic counterfeiting industry. Such is the following that Nigerian billionaire Mike Adenuga sponsors United through his mobile phone company Globacom.

In Fergie wonderland

"Gutted is the word. I'm still in shock," said Dhruv Dua, a fan in Delhi. "All of us knew the day was coming, but nobody, I mean nobody, expected it to be today. I'm still in Fergie wonderland ... out of words, out of tears."

Speculation raged over who will succeed Ferguson from bar rooms to the Internet. Paul Bassey, General Commissioner of the Confederation of African Football, said the new manager should follow Ferguson's example of winning on a relatively tight budget - unlike rivals such as Chelsea and Manchester City, whose billionaire backers lavish huge sums on star players.

"We hope his replacement will follow the United tradition, not someone who will come and start throwing his money around," said Bassey, a Nigerian living in Abuja.

Alex Ferguson ends 26-year United reign


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