The search for Sir Alex's successor
Sir Alex Ferguson stepping down as Manchester United manager at the end of the season has led to plenty of speculation regarding his potential successor, with Everton's David Moyes and Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho featuring among the candidates to take over at Old Trafford.
Here ESPN's correspondents in the northwest and across Europe give their views on those linked with what will surely be the most-sought-after job in world football.
MIKE WHALLEY - NORTHWEST CORRESPONDENT
It has become common at Everton news conferences over the past few months for David Moyes to be questioned about his future. The manager's contract will expire in the summer, and a new one has still to be signed.
Moyes has continued to play these questions with a straight bat ever since announcing in February that he would make a final decision in the summer. He did so again on Friday. "I've said my decision will be made at the end of the season, and that hasn't altered," he said.
Such a decision, it has long been clear, rests in the manager's hands. Chairman Bill Kenwright wants Moyes to extend his 11-year stay at Goodison Park. Moyes, meanwhile, has refused to commit himself, fueling talk that he has developed itchy feet and speculation as to where he might go next. First came the links with Schalke, then with Arsenal. Now it's Manchester United. If the offer comes, it would surely be too good to refuse.
The key word here is "if." Manchester United, were they to appoint Moyes, would be taking on a manager who has no experience of the Champions League beyond a two-legged qualifier against Villarreal in 2004. His time at Goodison Park has brought consistent overachievement on a limited budget, but no trophies.
But a move to Old Trafford would be perfect for Moyes, chiefly because the size of the club, and their financial clout, would represent a significant step up from his current position. And there are other things to consider: minor factors, certainly not deal-makers or deal-breakers, but worth bearing in mind all the same. Moyes' mixture of personal and professional stability is unusual in the modern game. In 15 years as a manager, he has never been sacked. Since becoming a professional footballer with Celtic in 1980, he has never been out of work. His family is settled in Preston, where he has lived for nearly 20 years, and would not have to move. There are non-football reasons for wanting a move to Old Trafford, too.
But it is the football reasons that take precedence. Everton were Champions League contenders for much of this season, only to fall away as a thin squad was stretched by injuries and Nikica Jelavic's spectacular loss of form. The FA Cup was a serious possibility, and the shock of their quarterfinal defeat at home to Wigan in March hurt Moyes badly.
Occasionally, he has dropped hints that he is ready for a new challenge. In December he gave an interview saying that he would like to manage in Germany someday. Soon afterward he said that he would use Everton's performances over the closing months of the season to help him decide his future.
Throughout all the speculation surrounding him, though, Moyes has taken great care to say nothing that could be perceived as burning his bridges with Everton. He has created the impression of a man who would like to discover what other opportunities are out there without running the risk of walking away into unemployment. If the chance comes, he will take it. If not, he will keep calm and carry on.
DERMOT CORRIGAN - SPAIN CORRESPONDENT
The news of a possible vacancy at Manchester United is likely to impact the ongoing delicate manoeuvring between Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid chief Florentino Perez, as both met look to profit from the Portuguese coach's likely exit from the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday afternoon the feeling in Madrid was that Mourinho and Perez were locked in a battle of wills -- the Special One apparently having decided to wreak havoc at the Bernabeu club in the hope of being sacked, and Perez pretending not to notice in the expectation that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich would then pay the €20 million plus needed to trigger the release clause in the contract that ties Mourinho to the Bernabeu until 2016.
Sir Alex's resignation, and the opening of a spot on the Old Trafford bench, could perhaps strengthen Mourinho's hand during the "friendly chat" which he has repeatedly said the pair will have once the current season ends.
Mourinho has regularly mentioned his respect for and friendship with Sir Alex during his time in Spain, and his "the best team lost" comments on British TV after Madrid had eliminated United in February's Champions League last-16 clash were not well received in the local media.
The breaking speculation certainly caught AS by surprise, as its edition on Wednesday morning has United preparing a shock €30 million bid for Madrid centre-half Pepe. Given the defender's criticism of his current coach this past weekend, followed by Monday's countercharge by Mourinho, it seems unlikely the two -- who share an agent in Jorge Mendes -- are currently making plans to reunite in Manchester next season.
STEPHAN UERSFELD - GERMANY CORRESPONDENT
Several German managers could be in the mix for the United job. The three most likely names you will hear about are Jupp Heynckes, Jurgen Klopp -- who will face each other in the Champions League final later this month -- and Joachim Low. But is any of those three managers a candidate for the most-sought-after management job in the world?
The obvious choice would be Klopp. The Borussia Dortmund boss has taken Europe by storm this season. He is refreshing not only for his free, counterattacking style of football but also for his humorous and lighthearted media approach and great language skills. Having masterminded a hugely successful era at Dortmund, Klopp may be reticent to leave the Champions League finalists on short notice and jump at the first chance to come his way. Contracted until 2016, Klopp is not one to break contracts and, even with all of Europe after his star players, he wants to build on his legacy in Dortmund.
Could Low be the one? The Germany boss will not step down one year ahead of what could finally be his first title-winning tournament with Germany at next summer's World Cup finals in Brazil. The chances of him leaving before then are virtually zero.
This leaves Bayern Munich boss Heynckes, who will 68 on Thursday. Heynckes will end his third stint at Bayern in the summer after a record-breaking season, with Pep Guardiola replacing him. The Bayern boss has continuously been linked with a return to La Liga but only recently has hinted at quitting football altogether. Whereas the idea of one final challenge might sound appealing to him, if Heynckes decides to continue his career, it is thought he would more likely return to Spain.
IAN HOLYMAN - FRANCE CORRESPONDENT
The destination of choice for Carlo Ancelotti, certainly as far as the French media are concerned, has always been Real Madrid. With Ferguson's departure unexpected, the prospect of the Italian arriving at Old Trafford has never been raised, and even when a potential departure was mooted on Tuesday, Ancelotti's name was nowhere to be found.
Yet there is no doubt the cuddly Ancelotti has the footballing gravitas required of a successor to Sir Alex. United fans are not known for their sympathy toward all things tainted by Stamford Bridge, but surely even the most hard-nosed one would end up warming to the avuncular Italian, whose managerial CV ticks the right boxes.
Although Ferguson's domestic successes outstrip his own, Ancelotti has two Champions League wins as a coach -- as many as the United boss -- while his Double triumph followed by a runners-up spot behind United during his spell at Chelsea showed he could compete with and even best the Scot when they went toe-to-toe in the technical area. His tenure at Paris Saint-Germain looks like not only enhancing his list of honours, but has also shown the former Juventus and AC Milan boss to be adept at handling a pressure-cooker dressing room, melding a disparate bunch of individuals into title-winners-elect. It is a skill Ferguson himself has mastered, and it is worth remembering a good number of Ancelotti's squad were already at the Parc des Princes before he arrived.
Would Ancelotti want the job? If the French media are to be believed, he has his heart set on Madrid having already reportedly turned them down twice. However, that was before talk tha tFerguson could leave surfaced. With little to separate United and Madrid in terms of prospects, stature and intense media attention, Ancelotti's own dreams and ambitions may well be the deciding factor.