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Last Updated: Friday, 12 March, 2004, 13:08 GMT
Ferguson receives warning shot
By Rob Hodgetts

Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to have a pacemaker fitted highlights the health risks all top-level football managers face.

But he will not need telling twice that the stresses and strains of management can lead to tragedy.

The Manchester United boss sat alongside Jock Stein when the Scotland coach suffered a fatal heart attack during a World Cup qualifier against Wales on 10 September, 1985.

Ferguson, who was 62 on New Year's Eve, vowed at the time he would never go the same way.

And, at the age of 60, he appeared to be heading for a quiet retirement after 16 years at the helm of United.

But in the summer of 2002, the Scot changed his mind about quitting, signed a new three-year contract, and led the club to the Premiership title last season.

At the turn of the year, Ferguson put pen to paper on a new 12-month rolling contract extending his management career indefinitely.

I'll tailor it a little differently - reduce the workload a bit
Sir Alex Ferguson in 2002

Ferguson was treated for a minor heart irregularity - similar to the one suffered by Prime Minister Tony Blair last year - just before Christmas.

It will have reminded the workaholic Scot and concerned colleagues that top-level football management carries significant health risks.

Dealing with expectant fans, critical media, highly-strung players and demanding money-men is undoubtedly a stress-laden pursuit.

Ferguson is also not scared to heap more pressure upon himself off the field as he chose to take on racing tycoon John Magnier over the stud rights to racehorse Rock of Gibraltar.

That heated dispute rumbled on for months and a settlement was reached last week but not before Ferguson's activities at Old Trafford and the role of his agent son Jason in the club's transfers were put under the spotlight.

A number of Ferguson's fellow managers have been stricken by heart problems, notably Graeme Souness, Gerard Houllier, Joe Kinnear and Barry Fry.

At the time of his managerial u-turn in 2002, Ferguson insisted: "I'll tailor it a little differently - reduce the workload a bit."

But he appears to show no signs of caving in and continues to manage his club whole-heartedly.

His two-match touchline ban for a verbal outburst against officials at Newcastle earlier this season is testament to his enduring commitment.

A minor problem now can become a major one at a later stage
League Managers' Association boss John Barnwell

Ferguson's initial check-up several months ago was part of a new programme launched by the League Managers' Association aimed at monitoring the health of their members.

He was one of 48 participants, 15 of whom have reported a problem.

And LMA chief executive John Barnwell insisted all managers should take part in the monitoring process to ensure any problems are detected at any early stage.

"None of the 15 has anything life-threatening but a minor problem now can become a major one at a later stage if it is not found quickly enough," said Barnwell.

"We try not to use the word stress but no-one can deny the intensity of football management has increased dramatically over the years."

Ferguson will no doubt make light of his own scare - he was back at work the day after the operation and has assured fans, "everything is OK."

But he has received a warning shot across the bows - and all managers would do well to heed the signs.

Q&A: Ferguson's heart problems
05 Dec 03  |  Football
Ferguson takes on Magnier
18 Nov 03  |  Horse Racing
Ferguson set for new deal
09 Nov 03  |  Man Utd
Ferguson accepts punishment
21 Oct 03  |  Man Utd

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