Manchester United held talks with Arsene Wenger over replacing Alex Ferguson as manager in 2001, former chairman Martin Edwards has revealed.
The Arsenal boss was identified as the number one choice to take charge at Old Trafford following Ferguson’s shock announcement to the club that he intended to retire following the 2000-01 season.
Edwards, who was chairman of the club between 1980 and 2002, says discussions were held at Wenger’s home in an effort to tempt him away from United’s fierce rivals.
“I have to say that his decision came as both a surprise and a shock to all of us,” Edwards told GQ magazine when asked about Ferguson’s initial plans to retire.
“Once we realised that he was very serious about it and that his mind was made up, there were lots of discussions at board level about a possible replacement.
“Our first choice was Arsene Wenger. Since joining Arsenal in 1996, Wenger had been pretty successful, especially in his first full season in charge when he won the double. And while it’s true to say that he has suffered hard times since, at the time we all thought he was the best candidate to replace Alex. Certainly, he was my number one choice.
“Wenger did show a little bit of interest, enough to want to meet with both [former United chief executive] Peter Kenyon and me at his home in London to listen to what we had to say. In fact, we had a couple of meetings with him and for a while we thought there was a possibility of him joining us.
“But I think Wenger felt a loyalty towards [former Arsenal vice-chairman] David Dein. He was very close to David, and that was the reason he gave us in the end for turning down United. He felt that he had started something with Arsenal and that his attachment to the club was too great, he didn’t want to break that bond.”
Ferguson eventually reversed his decision and went on to guide United to a host of further honours, including seven Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008, before retiring in 2013.
In total, he won 28 major trophies at United, including 13 league titles, five FA Cups and two Champions Leagues.
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