English soccer's most successful manager -- Manchester United's Alex Ferguson -- is retiring at the end of the season after more than a quarter of a century at the helm, the club announced Wednesday.
The 71-year-old Scot has managed the English club, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and loved by millions of fans around the world, from Manchester to Manila and Montreal, since 1986.
Everton manager David Moyes is the bookmakers' favorite to succeed his compatriot, and the 50-year-old will be confirmed as the next United boss on Thursday according to widespread British media reports.
During his 26 years in charge, Ferguson -- a supporter of Britain's Labour Party who's renowned for dressing down players with the "hairdryer treatment" -- has won more than 30 trophies, including 13 league championships.
Many fans took to Twitter to voice their appreciation, using the handle #thankyousiralex. He became Sir Alex when knighted by the queen more than a decade ago for his services to the game.
As well as dominating on the pitch, Ferguson has helped build the century-old soccer club into a huge business operation whose progress is followed on stock exchanges around the world.
Its shares dipped nearly 5% in early trading Wednesday.
The Old Trafford club is owned by the American Glazer family, who oversaw the club's listing on the New York Stock Exchange last August.
For the 2011-2012 season, United increased revenues by £14.2 million to £117.6 million ($182.4), the highest of any club in the Premier League.
But it lost the top spot as the world's most valuable sports franchise in this year's Forbes list to Spanish soccer club Real Madrid. Forbes valued Manchester United at $3.17 billion, still ahead of Barcelona, another Spanish soccer club, and two U.S. outfits, the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball and the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL.
Ferguson will bow out after the club's last game of the season, an away match against West Bromwich Albion, on May 19, according to a statement from Manchester United.
Before then he will have one more home game for the "Red Devils" at Old Trafford on Sunday, against Swansea City.
'A bright future'
It's not clear who the club will choose to replace him. Ferguson will join the club's board as a director and "ambassador," Manchester United said.
"The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly. It is the right time," Ferguson said.
"It was important to me to leave an organization in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so."
The quality of the team, the balance of the players' ages and its upcoming youth squad will contribute to its continued "success at the highest level" and "ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one," he said.
Ferguson paid tribute to the club's "players and staff, past and present," thanking them "for a staggering level of professional conduct and dedication that has helped to deliver so many memorable triumphs. Without their contribution the history of this great club would not be as rich."
He also expressed gratitude to his own family, the Glazer family, and the club's many supporters, at home and abroad.
"Alex has proven time and time again what a fantastic manager he is but he's also a wonderful person. His determination to succeed and dedication to the club have been truly remarkable," Joel Glazer said.
The club also quotes former Manchester United and England captain Bryan Robson as saying Ferguson is the "greatest there has ever been."
Gavin Hamilton, editor of World Soccer magazine, told CNN he considers Ferguson to be unsurpassed as a manager in his time.
"In the modern era, where's he's dealt with the players on huge salaries and the corporate world that is now football, he has had extraordinary success," he said.
"He's tough and uncompromising and, I think, completely dedicated to being a winner."