Gary Neville believes Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has the credentials to manage a club like Manchester United but has stepped back from tipping him to take over from Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.
Ferguson has a one-year rolling contract and shows no signs of giving up control of the Barclays Premier League leaders.
Neville, who has hung up his boots to start work as a TV pundit, told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek programme that finding a replacement for the 69-year-old Scot when he does call it a day is the toughest challenge facing the club.
He said: “That is the most difficult question for Manchester United – the day when he is not manager any more.”
The 36-year-old does not think that day is imminent, though.
“He just feels the job is never complete. As a United fan the job at United is never complete – it just goes on forever.”
But Neville added on Mourinho: “I really like this manager. I think he’s a fantastic manager.
“His team get results and he does what he has to do to get results.
“This guy has won European Cups. He’s a serial winner. He knows how to win games.
“There are many good managers out there and it won’t be just him on the cards (to replace Ferguson) I am sure.”
Neville reckons Ferguson is not ready to retire after a quarter of a century at the club during which time the game has evolved with the introduction of sports science and other changes.
He claims the secret of Ferguson’s success has been sticking to his beliefs.
“He has old school principles. If you work hard you get the job done. He demands the absolute best at all times,” Neville said.
Ferguson has transformed the United playing staff over the past year, drafting the likes of Fabio, Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling into the starting line-up almost unnoticed.
“He has gently built a new side,” added Neville. “I think he’s done that behind people’s backs.
“He always has great faith and belief in young people.”