London (AFP) – Manchester United defender Phil Jones is hopeful legendary former manager Alex Ferguson will make a full recovery from emergency surgery on a brain haemorrhage, despite admitting he was “devastated” by the news of his ill health.
Considered the most successful manager in the history of British football, Ferguson, 76, won 38 trophies in just over 26 years in charge of United, including 13 Premier League titles and the Champions League twice before retiring in 2013.
United have offered no update on Ferguson’s condition since saying a procedure on the haemorrhage on Saturday had gone “very well”, but that a period of intensive care is needed to optimise his recovery.
“(I am) just devastated, absolutely devastated,” said Jones, who was signed for United by Ferguson in 2011.
“He is such a legend in my eyes. He is the one who brought me to the club and gave me that opportunity to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world. He’s taken me under his wing like a father and it was shocking.”
“It’s sad, but I know his character. I know he has that fight in him. Hopefully he’ll recover well.”
United midfielder Juan Mata also admitted news of Ferguson’s condition had a “huge impact” on the current squad.
“This circumstance has had a huge impact on Manchester United, as you can imagine,” Mata wrote in his blog. “All of us are united right now, wishing Sir Alex a speedy recovery. He has been a unique and fundamental figure in the football world over the last few decades.”
United thanked the many well-wishers, including the likes of rival managers Arsene Wenger, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, who spoke of their admiration for Ferguson.
“As well as being uppermost in the thoughts of our own players, past and present, Sir Alex has been the subject of many warm and touching comments from other clubs, governing bodies and individuals in the beautiful game,” United said in a statement on Sunday.
– ‘Strong man’ –
Wenger enjoyed a long, and at times fractious, rivalry with Ferguson as they battled for Premier League supremacy in the first decade of the Frenchman’s 22-year reign in charge of Arsenal.
However, they later became friends and with Wenger leaving Arsenal at the end of the season, Ferguson presented the his old adversary with a memento on his final visit to United’s Old Trafford ground just last weekend.
“I was with him on the pitch last week. I went to see him in the box after the game and he looked in a perfect shape,” said Wenger, after his final home game as Arsenal boss.
“He told me he is doing a lot of exercise, and he looked very happy but that kind of accident can happen. We wish him all well and to recover very quickly. He is a strong man and an optimistic man.”
Sunday saw runaway winners Manchester City receive the Premier League trophy. But local rivalries were forgotten as a banner was held aloft by City fans reading: “Football aside get well Fergie” as supporters spilled onto the pitch at full-time of a 0-0 draw with Huddersfield.
“All the Manchester City fans in the stadium, you cannot find one person who does not wish the best for an amazing person,” said City boss Guardiola.
Ferguson famously described his mission upon joining United from Aberdeen in 1986 as knocking Liverpool “off their perch”.
He duly did so as United overtook Liverpool as the most successful side in English domestic football.
And Liverpool manager Klopp described Ferguson as “absolutely the boss”.
“When I heard the news yesterday I really couldn’t believe this could happen. He is absolutely the boss,” said Klopp after Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat at Chelsea on Sunday. “I wish him the best.”
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte added: “I have had the chance to know him and his wife. I understand that this is a special person. Not a normal person.”
An ambulance was called to Ferguson’s home in Cheadle, near Manchester, at 9:00 am (0800 GMT) on Saturday.
Concerns for the Scot’s health then started to mount when it was announced his son, Darren, the manager of English third-tier club Doncaster, would miss his side’s match against Wigan because of “family reasons”.
A brain haemorrhage is bleeding in or around the brain following the rupture of a blood vessel, which can be caused by elevated blood pressure, aneurysms or physical trauma.
Operations to relieve the pressure of excess blood in the brain, as has been the case with Ferguson, are crucial if sufferers are to avoid brain damage or even death.