THE clock is now ticking on the Old Trafford careers of John O'Shea and Darren Gibson -- and a summer clear-out at Manchester United could signal the end for both men.
O'Shea was offered a new deal in November, which would have locked him in for another four years and generated £17m in wages, but there is some confusion over the contract, which would have kept him at the club until 2015.
Talks are planned in the coming weeks and Gibson too must make some urgent plans, given the fact that he is out of contract at the club in June.
Ferguson has a major job of reconstruction to do when he finally sits down at the end of the season to make plans to cope with the fact that the backbone of his team must be replaced.
United are expected to open contract talks with several players as the club begin a critical phase of long-term planning over the next seven months, which will feature an extensive reshaping of the first-team squad.
Six senior players are out of contract at the end of the season and a further 10 have less than 18 months left on their deals.
Of the six out of contract in the summer, at least four will leave the club. Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and club captain Gary Neville are preparing to retire, while Owen Hargreaves, the perennially injured midfield player, will not be offered a new deal. United are not expected to take up the option of a third year in Michael Owen's contract, which would leave the former striker as a free agent.
Ferguson is likely to sit down with Paul Scholes towards the end of the season to determine the 36-year-old midfield player's thoughts about carrying on and chief executive David Gill has indicated that Ryan Giggs will be offered a new one-year contract.
A similar situation applies to Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, who are likely to be the first of that large group of players out of contract in June 2012 to open discussions about new deals.
Wes Brown, the defender with whom Ferguson fell out after a run-in last summer, and goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak will not be offered new deals and are firmly expected to be sold, if not this month then in six months time.
Uncertainty surrounds the futures of Patrice Evra and Ritchie de Laet and, with Van der Sar, Neville, Hargreaves and Owen on their way out and Scholes yet to decide what the future holds, Ferguson could see as many as 10 senior players leave the club in the summer, a cull that will pave the way for a raft of new signings.
All of the above rests on Ferguson's willingness to carry on but, Gill has no fears on that score or that Manchester United will find the right replacement when the time comes to replace their longest-serving manager.
"Alex is on a rolling contract, he is on the record as saying that he will continue as long as he keeps fit."