Sir Alex Ferguson reportedly had a three-man shortlist of managers to replace him during an uncertain period at Manchester United - including Martin O'Neill, Alan Curbishley and David O’Leary.

The trio are understood to have been identified by Ferguson to take over the reins at Old Trafford had he left the Premier League giants in 2000.

Celtic chief Dermot Desmond was keen to bring the Scottish legend to Celtic Park in 1997 but ultimately failed, as Ferguson wanted to remain in Manchester to win the Champions League.

He achieved that two years later and Celtic went in for Ferguson again at the turn of the century, only for the manager to rebuff their efforts for the second time.

Sir Alex Ferguson earned hero status during his spell as Man Utd's manager

During discussions, Desmond revealed that Ferguson had O'Neill, Curbishley and O’Leary - who were in charge of Leicester, Charlton and Leeds at the time - as his favourites to replace him.

Speaking to the Athletic, Desmond said: “In 2000, I went back and asked him if he was to pick his replacement at that time who would it be. 

“He said there were three people: Dave O'Leary, Alan Curbishley and Martin O'Neill. I said the one I'm interested in is Martin O'Neill."

O'Neill eventually landed the Celtic manager's job after a meeting with the club’s then directors - Brian Quinn and Pat Sheehy - which came about through Ferguson’s recommendation.

The Irishman boasts an impressive CV, including taking Celtic to the UEFA Cup final
Martin O'Neill boasts an impressive CV, including taking Celtic to the UEFA Cup final

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Desmond added: "I had previously asked a prominent broadcaster if Martin would be interested in the job and I got a response in the negative. 

“I then asked Alex if he would speak with Martin, to see if he would meet with me, and the response was that he would be very interested in meeting. 

“So I met Martin for dinner and we got on very well. I introduced him to Pat and Brian and they also felt he was a remarkable individual, so we hired Martin.”