He may have competed in one of the most passionate derbies on the planet as a player, led a team at the FIFA World Cup™ and be the most successful manager in the history of British football, but even Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted that he was shaking the first time he met Nelson Mandela.
In 1993, Manchester United were one of the first clubs to visit South Africa following the end of Apartheid and they had the opportunity to meet Mandela. The occasion obviously had a profound impact on the United manager, as he included a photo of the encounter in his autobiography, Managing My Life.
Fifteen years on from his first meeting with the former President of South Africa and the Nobel Peace Prize winner, he recalls the incident with an incredible amount of warmth.
"It was a fantastic trip," Ferguson told FIFA.com. "We'd just won the league for the first time, so there was a buoyancy and enthusiasm around the club - and there was a buoyancy and enthusiasm around South Africa because Apartheid had ended. We got the opportunity to go to Johannesburg and play two games, one against the Kaizer Chiefs and the other against Orlando Pirates, and they were brilliant games. It was great to go out at the beginning of something special.
"The highlight for us was meeting Nelson Mandela. To be honest, we were all terrified at the prospect of meeting him. When you're in the presence of someone so great, you do get a bit nervous. In fact, we were a bit more than nervous - we were all shaking, even me! He does have a real aura about him.
"We also met him two years ago and were invited to his house and it was amazing how relaxed he was. He really seemed to be enjoying himself, which was great to see. He is a truly amazing man."
Ferguson has been a regular visitor to South Africa in the following years, and believes there has been a remarkable growth both on and off the pitch. He has witnessed improvements in transport and accommodation, as well as a rise in standards on the pitch.
"When I look back to 1993 and compare it to how it is now, there has been an awful lot of progress," he continued. "They've obviously made progress on the pitch, but the infrastructure has also improved greatly. When we were there for the first time, we played in Soweto and Ellis Park. Since then, the Soweto stadium has been completely rebuilt and they've made massive improvements to Ellis Park.
"The national team is going through a transitional phase at the moment. All of their best players at the moment are the experienced players, but national teams go in cycles, particularly for the developing football nations. Sometimes you have a good group and you might have to wait another ten years for another crop to come along. Hopefully, the experience that they'll get between now and 2010 will see them do well at the World Cup."
Ferguson was at FIFA Headquarters in Tokyo today for a meeting with the FIFA President and Secretary General, as well as Manchester United's Chief Executive David Gill. Shortly before the talks, he was presented with a South Africa jersey by Dr. Danny Jordaan, CEO of the Local Organising Committee for the forthcoming FIFA World Cup. The Scot smiled broadly as he received the gift and he was quick to give his backing to the tournament, which he thinks will be a successful one.
"It will be a superb World Cup - there's no doubt about that," he said. The fans are fantastic and they'll love having the tournament there. We've always been given a tremendous welcome and I'm sure everyone who travels there will experience the same. One thing that's really going to interest me is the weather. In Johannesburg and Durban it should be beautiful, but in the Cape it could be quite wet.
"It is a fantastic country and I love it. All of my family do and we've got a house down in St. Francis Bay. South Africa is a country with bags of potential. It's beautiful, the weather is great and the wines are magnificent!"
South Africa has also proved to be a lucky country for Ferguson and Manchester United. Following their first pre-season trip in 1993, the Red Devils won the league in 1994. That sequence happened again when they lifted the Premier League trophy in 2007 following a summer visit the previous year. Having been to South Africa in 2008, will history repeat itself for a third time?
"We're hoping it does," laughed Ferguson. "You do get a bit superstitious about some things and places. We said that at official receptions when we went out there this summer, but we have a big test this season because we have games to make up when we get back. But we've got the squad to cope with that."