By Richard Hunter, Head of Equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers

Forget whether Justin King is leaving Sainsbury's. Sir Alex Ferguson's departure from Manchester United at the end of the season will leave a chasm which the replacement may find impossible to fill.

Whether Man United have this season become a one-man team will be of little interest to investors. Of rather more importance is whether the one man at the helm can be replaced at all. The news was somewhat unexpected and was enough to wipe 3% from the share price at the open of trading on Wall Street.

It seems unlikely that the club will not have made succession arrangements and a replacement is almost certain to be announced imminently.

In the meantime, the Manchester United merchandising machine will not grind to a halt overnight, and there is little reason to suspect that the club will not build further on the impressive third quarter results announced last week. Since the flotation in August and prior to today's announcement, the shares had added 34% in view of some lucrative new sponsorship deals and Premiership success on the pitch.

The company is thinly traded and researched on Wall Street, but of the handful of analysts which cover the stock the consensus of the shares as a buy is likely to remain intact, despite the inevitably difficult transition phase to a new chapter in the club's history.

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