Rio Ferdinand feels life at Manchester United will be eerie when Sir Alex Ferguson eventually decides to leave.
Ferguson celebrates 20 years as Red Devils boss tomorrow having received the perfect present yesterday with a 3-0 home win over Portsmouth which cemented his side's position at the Premiership summit.
Although the great and the good of the football world will gather to mark the occasion with a lunch in his honour, Ferguson has made it perfectly clear he has little interest in recording the milestone.
And, in even more forceful terms, the Scot has made it clear he will not be forced into retirement and intends to leave his job at a time of his choosing.
So, even though Ferdinand signed a contract extension last season which takes him to 2009, it is entirely conceivable Ferguson may remain with the Red Devils longer than he does.
But, whenever the day dawns for United to appoint their next manager, Ferdinand accepts the transition will be strange.
'When the manager leaves is up to him but whenever it is, it is going to be difficult in all respects,' said the defender.
'He has got a genuine love of the game and it would be tough for anybody, who has been so successful, and whose desire to win things is so strong, just to walk away from the game.
'I am pretty sure when he does go, he will want it to be on a winning note but the boss will always have a presence here no matter what, purely because of what he has achieved.
'But when he first goes, it will be very eerie around here and something I don't really want to think about.'
If there were any lingering doubts within the United dressing room over Ferguson's continued longevity, they were swiftly dispelled at Bolton last weekend.
By common consent, in the first 20 minutes the Red Devils produced a performance unmatched for the previous four or five years. Even Ferguson was purring with pride when he conducted his post-game interviews.
At half-time though, the Scot told an entirely different story.
'When we came in at half-time against Bolton, he wasn't too happy with us,' revealed Ferdinand.
'The first 20 minutes were brilliant but he was unhappy we didn't continue the way we had been playing in that spell throughout the whole half. That tells you exactly where he is coming from.'
As the most expensive player Ferguson has ever bought, Ferdinand feels his respect for the Glaswegian is two-fold.
Ferdinand accepts there would always be a certain amount of reverence anyway due to the fact Ferguson is his immediate boss.
However, his managerial record, not just in his illustrious 20 years at United but also what he achieved previously at Aberdeen, demands recognition.
'Anybody who looks at his CV and the way he conducts himself will have the utmost respect for him anyway,' said Ferdinand, who cost United £29.1million from Leeds in 2002.
'He has been successful in management throughout his whole career, starting at Aberdeen and then coming through to Manchester United.
'Obviously, the reason he has been here so long is because of his success. But that has been achieved because over the course of those 20 years he has had the desire, hunger and guts to make big decisions.'
What Ferguson has also done, and which should never be underestimated is generate a fierce loyalty among his players, partly through a `them and us' mentality but also a steadfast refusal to condemn his players in public no matter what his private thoughts may be.
Ferdinand is a direct recipient of Ferguson's stance, receiving his manager's unqualified support over the eight-month ban he picked up for missing a drugs test even though the `crime' was clearly avoidable.
'Most people will never know what is being said behind closed doors because in the public arena, the boss defends his players to the hilt,' said Ferdinand.
'But that's where the manager gets great respect from the players. They know they can trust him 100%. It is something on which the whole foundations of this club are built.'