Lord Sebastian Coe has revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson agreed to manage Team GB at the 2012 Olympic Games, but he later pulled out due to commitments with Manchester United.
Olympic football was restricted to amateur players until 1992, though Great Britain stopped entering a team after the 1972 edition.
Since then, Olympic rules dictate that qualification must be earned through confederation youth tournaments, meaning Great Britain could not ordinarily qualify for the Games as England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland compete as separate nations in UEFA competitions.
But hosting the Olympics in 2012 meant that Team GB were able to compete as hosts, and Coe, who headed London’s bid to host the Games, wanted Man Utd legend Ferguson to lead the men’s football team.
“We got very close. I came up with the idea because we were having a bit of fragility around our Celtic cousins. It suddenly occurred to me the one unifying influence in all that would be having a not necessarily English coach,” Coe said on the eve of the Games’ tenth anniversary.
“I didn’t speak to a soul about it but I rang up Bob Charlton and said, ‘Am I out to lunch here?’ He said, ‘No, I’ll tell Alex to give you a call’.
“Weeks went by. I was in a Tesco in Cobham on a Friday night and I got a call. It was a no ID and I was at the butter and fats counter and he said, ‘Seb, it’s Alex here’.
“I threw a load of cash at one of my daughters to keep filling the trolley and I said, ‘This is the stuff for a long conversation, I’m in the supermarket’.
“I took him through the idea and he said, ‘Well, I don’t know’. Then there was a gap and he went, ‘Oh Jesus, I’m already picking the team in my head’.
“I later went to the BBC review of the year and Alex was there. Alex looked at me and said the answer’s yes. I said fine.”
However, Ferguson has since insisted that commitments to Man Utd meant that taking the job would have been a logistical nightmare, and Coe confirmed this as the reason why Stuart Pearce took charge instead.
“I’ve always laughed with Alex afterwards. He often wonders whether he missed out on a really good experience,” Coe added.
Team GB were eliminated in the quarter-finals by South Korea on penalties, with Daniel Sturridge missing the crucial spot kick.