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Ferguson hints at departure by 2012

The 2001-02 season was set to have been his last as United manager, but the team's performance declined so he went back on his decision.

sports Updated: Mar 07, 2008 21:05 IST

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson isn't setting a date for retirement just yet. British newspapers suggested Friday that the 66-year-old Ferguson was contemplating stepping down within the next three years, but the veteran coach downplayed the reports the same day. "I'm not putting a time limit on it _ it's impossible," Ferguson said. "You never know what happens in life." Ferguson is English soccer's most decorated manager with 20 trophies in 20 seasons. He already knows what can happen by making retirement plans public.

The 2001-02 season was set to have been his last as United manager, but the team's performance declined after the announcement and Ferguson went back on his decision.

United rebounded to win the 2003 Premier League title and Ferguson, who is on a one-year rolling contract, has not been specific about his plans since.

Although Ferguson was still refusing to set an exact timetable for his departure on Friday, the veteran manager has been discussing his exit from Old Trafford with increasing frequency in recent weeks.

When asked last month about the Premier League's plan to play regular season games overseas, Ferguson said: "I'll not be here by that time I hope."

And after Tuesday's modest 1-0 win over Lyon secured a place in the Champions League quarterfinals, Ferguson told French radio of plans to quit by 2011.

"I'm getting beyond the future now," he said. "I still have a lot of passion. I'm still happy. But I'm 66 now _ maybe three years more, then I'll finish."

Ferguson sounded less sure when talking to British reporters on Friday.

"If your health is good and you're enjoying the job, two or three years, who knows?" Ferguson said. "It's difficult to pigeonhole myself."

Ferguson hasn't dispelled reports that he will coach a combined Britain side at the 2012 London Olympics _ if the Scottish Football Association ends its opposition to the team.

"It's quite some time away, I hope I'm still alive then," he said. "It's way in the future that one."

Ferguson is looking this season to replicate his historic 1999 treble by winning a 10th Premier League title, a sixth FA Cup and a second European Cup triumph.

United hosts Portsmouth in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday and trails league leader Arsenal by just one point. Ferguson has constructed an impressive side packed with talented youngsters including Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. "I'll be more excited about the future if we win something this season, I think they've got to win a trophy," Ferguson said. "That's obviously the deciding factor. They're showing good signs at the moment, they're showing a good energy and there's a great team spirit."

Ferguson has cautiously touted his "great assistant" Carlos Queiroz as a replacement.

"(Queiroz) will come into the reckoning," Ferguson said. "But we have owners and a chief executive who will choose the new man in three years' time.

"The thing about football is we have some potential young managers but, because of the dangers, the hazards of management, they may not be there in three years' time."