Sir Alex Ferguson has announced he will retire as Manchester United manager at the end of the season.
“The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly. It is the right time," Ferguson said.
“It was important to me to leave an organisation in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so. The quality of this league winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level whilst the structure of the youth set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one.
“Our training facilities are amongst the finest in global sport and our home Old Trafford is rightfully regarded as one of the leading venues in the world.
“Going forward, I am delighted to take on the roles of both Director and Ambassador for the club. With these activities, along with my many other interests, I am looking forward to the future.
“I must pay tribute to my family, their love and support has been essential. My wife Cathy has been the key figure throughout my career, providing a bedrock of both stability and encouragement. Words are not enough to express what this has meant to me.
“As for my players and staff, past and present, I would like to thank them all for a staggering level of professional conduct and dedication that has helped to deliver so many memorable triumphs. Without their contribution the history of this great club would not be as rich.
“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.
“Over the past decade, the Glazer family have provided me with the platform to manage Manchester United to the best of my ability and I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with a talented and trustworthy Chief Executive in David Gill. I am truly grateful to all of them.
“To the fans, thank you. The support you have provided over the years has been truly humbling. It has been an honour and an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to lead your club and I have treasured my time as manager of Manchester United.”
Fresh from his 13th Premier League title win, Ferguson, 71, will undergo a hip operation in the summer and is set to miss the start of United's 2013-14 season.
Although questions were raised as to why Ferguson would not undergo surgery during the club's pre-season tour of Asia, his retirement would explain the lack of alacrity.
Everton coach David Moyes, who Ferguson is a vocal admirer of, is believed to be the United manager's preferred choice to replace him.
United players were briefed of major news during their golf day on Tuesday, further intensifying speculation the Scot was set to quit.
In his programme notes ahead of Sunday's fixture with Chelsea, Ferguson said: "This team of champions is not going to go away – we are here for the long ride! We will get better and if we apply ourselves in our normal fashion I see our 20th league title as nothing but the start of another decade of success.
"Whether I will be here to oversee another ten years remains to be seen, but I certainly don’t have any plans at the moment to walk away from what I believe will be something special and worth being around for all to see.
"It’s always difficult in football to be absolutely sure of the future because the game has a habit of tripping you up, but I don’t live in a fantasy world."
One bookmakers slashed odds on Moyes succeeding Ferguson at the weekend after a flood of bets, while it is unlikely United have not considered José Mourinho, set to depart Real Madrid this summer, to replace Ferguson. The Times write that talks between Mourinho and Chelsea, where he is hotly tipped to return, have stalled.
Although Ferguson has regularly stated his regret at winning just two European Cups, he has the chance to leave Old Trafford having overseen United comprehensively regain their title from Manchester City.
Ferguson succeeded Ron Atkinson in November 1986 and has presided over the most successful spell in United history.
Aside from the 13 titles he has led the club to, he has won five FA Cups, four League Cups, two European Cups, a European Cup Winners' Cup, the Intercontinental Cup and the Club World Cup.