He has been clear about his intention to move into management, sitting his coaching exams and even going so far as to prepare a backroom team, at least in theory. It is the perception of Ferguson in the mind of others that has always been the most likely impediment. In Scotland in particular, Ferguson has often been lampooned as a surly, blunt figure lacking insight or communication skills. The caricature is unfair at times, which was why he railed against it, but he now has an opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.
Ferguson is likely to accept the caretaker manager role at Blackpool following the sacking of Paul Ince on Tuesday. There is already a reminder of his single-mindedness, though, since Ferguson was said to be only prepared to take the position if it was until the end of the season, rather than on a shorter-term basis. He wants the opportunity to earn the job full-time, not be a stand-in. Team-mates are said to be keen on his appointment, but then they do always tend to prefer a new manager that they know and have worked beside, rather than a newcomer. None the less, Ferguson has often been held in higher esteem within the game than outwith.
Some of the criticism was self-inflicted. His career is pockmarked with instances of bad judgment or rash behaviour, but maturity is sometimes hard-earned. At 35, he could retire and live off the earnings accrued from an exquisite talent and shrewd financial planning. Ferguson, though, remains in thrall to the game and its pressures.
Yet management is an entirely different challenge and the qualities that sustain a playing career do not always allow for the transition.
Ferguson recoiled from the depiction of him in programmes like Only An Excuse, which reduced him to a gruff, uncommunicative character. His career in itself is a riposte to that, since Ferguson was the leadership presence in every dressing room that he served in.
Authority was a natural trait, even if there was also an impulse to react against those in authoritative positions, as Paul Le Guen might attest. Ferguson's demanding nature was often expressed as grumpiness or moaning, but he set standards for himself that he expected others to strive for. He has previously remarked that people have asked if he might change how he speaks if he goes into management, and his response was: "Why should I?"
Management, though, requires more subtlety and nuance than leading as a player. Individuals react in different ways, and Ferguson has to grasp the art of man-management. He has been portrayed as introspective and self-centred - his brother Derek remarked yesterday that Barry dropped by for a chat on Sunday night, which was out of the ordinary - but the game can still reward different personalities.
There is a science to management and coaching which contemporary figures are accustomed to, but there is also a feel for it, an innate sense of conviction that can come naturally or with experience.
Examples abound of players who were expected to succeed in management, such as Richard Gough or Roy Aitken, and others who were never expected to embark on successful management careers, like Paul Lambert or Ian McCall. Such presumptions do not take into account the different challenges of the two roles.
Ferguson has been taking notes about training sessions and how his own managers have responded to different situations, and he has studied matches for their tactical insights and how games can be influenced by substitutions or changes to formation or mentality.
He has been preparing, which alone will be provide him with the right starting blocks. There is the challenging environment of Blackpool to overcome, since the team has been performing badly - they have lost nine of their last 10 games - but was previously ensconced in the top four of the Sky Bet Championship so there is potential to work with.
Dressing rooms can be unforgiving environments, but there will be instinctive respect for Ferguson because of the exploits of his playing career. That status has to be turned into something more lasting, and there will be setbacks along the way, but that does not mean that he is bound to fail.
Management demands and nurtures qualities that were not essential to a playing career. An understanding of tactics and sports science are important, as is the choice of people he works beside, but to disregard Ferguson's potential as a manager is to misunderstand what the job requires.
Ferguson may yet prove that he has a fluent grasp of the intricacies of the role. As a midfielder, he is able to read and deconstruct the flow of a game. That vision came naturally, but now he has to find a way to apply it and express it to players.