On an emotional Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford, soaking wet with rain and tears, where Manchester United’s 2–1 victory over Swansea City was almost incidental, the Barclays English Premier League trophy was presented to the Red Devils for the 13th time in 21 seasons and the greatest football manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson, bowed out in front of a delirious capacity crowd.
With the match finally out of the way, the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived and Sir Alex took the microphone to bid farewell, most especially to the United faithful, but also to the rest of the football world on which he has made such a profound impact over three decades.
Let us not forget that the reason he was given his chance at Old Trafford was the remarkable job he had done with unfashionable Aberdeen, who not only broke the stranglehold of Rangers and Celtic on the game in Scotland, but beat the mighty Real Madrid to lift the old European Cup Winners Cup in 1983.
Sir Alex paid tribute to all the players, supporters and backroom staff, describing his time in Manchester as “the most fantastic experience of my life.” He also acknowledged that success did not happen overnight when he first took up the position of manager and asked the supporters to be patient with his anointed successor, current Everton boss David Moyes.
“When we had bad times here, the club stood by me, all the staff stood by me, and the players stood by me; your job now is to stand by the new manager,” Ferguson said.
One notable member of the Manchester United fraternity who persistently pleaded Ferguson’s case in the early days, when a couple of years had gone by with no silverware, was Sir Bobby Charlton.
In his address, Sir Alex quickly turned attention away from himself saying a heartfelt “well done to the players” for their achievement this season in regaining the Premier League title, adding that he would in future be able to “enjoy watching them rather than suffering with them.”
He then went on to pay tribute to the retiring Paul Scholes, who he described as “one of the greatest players this club has had and ever will have.”
Considerate as ever, he did not forget the ill Darren Fletcher who he hoped would make “a speedy comeback to the club.”
So Sir Alex said goodbye and disappeared down the tunnel as the stage was set for the trophy presentation and medals to the players.
It is worth noting that Manchester United had not won the league title since 1967 when Ferguson took up the reins. They now head the lists of both league championship winners and FA Cup winners.
The League and Cup double was the holy grail of English football for a century with Preston and Aston Villa achieving the feat back in the mists of time, and only Tottenham (1961) and Arsenal (1971) managing it in the 20th century before Liverpool in 1986.
Sir Alex Ferguson delivered the League and Cup double three times in the 1990s, including the unique FA Cup, Premier League, and Champions League treble of 1999. Later that year, United beat Palmeiras to become the only British side ever to win the Intercontinental Cup—effectively the club championship of the world at the time.
Everyone expected Manchester United to bounce back after losing the title in such dramatic fashion to their neighbors in the last few minutes of the last day of the 2012 campaign, but nobody predicted that they would dominate this season’s competition the way they have done, and win it by such a wide margin with so many games to spare.
Final Home Win for Sir Alex
Of course there was actually a game of football at Old Trafford this afternoon as well.
Scholes was given his first start since the turn of the year following recovery from injury, and walked out in a Manchester United shirt for the 717th time, for what will be the last appearance on his home ground.
Had this been any other day, then the big news would have been that a fit Wayne Rooney was not even in the squad. Ferguson acknowledged that he had put in a transfer request, according to Sky Sports.
Swansea City was determined to remind the crowd of their presence and started the game with verve and enthusiasm. However, it was soon business as usual and the first chance fell to Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez whose shot hit the underside of the bar and came out.
The Mexican was again in the right place on 39 minutes and this time Chicharito made no mistake and put his side into the lead.
Half-time in the United dressing must have been atypical to say the least, given the occasion, and the players seemed to be in something of a daze at the start of the second period.
Swansea took advantage of United’s sluggishness and went in search of an equalizer. They were rewarded on 49 minutes when, bargain buy of the season, Michu skillfully turned in a Nathan Dyer cross for his 22nd goal of the campaign.
The visitors could even have truly spoiled the party and gone ahead on 62 minutes had David De Gea not made a smart block at his near post from Pablo Hernandez.
Four minutes later, Scholes trotted off to a standing ovation for the last time at Old Trafford. “Nugget” has truly been one of the greats of the Ferguson era.
No prizes for guessing who came off the bench for his 940th appearance 10 minutes later. The occasion would not have been complete without the participation of Ryan Giggs.
A feature of Ferguson’s teams throughout his tenure has not just been the quality, but their never say die fighting spirit which has resulted in so many crucial late goals.
Today’s script was complete when just three minutes from the end of normal time, Robin van Persie swung in a characteristic left-footed corner from the right, which broke to Rio Ferdinand, of all people, at the far post.
The veteran central defender gleefully lashed the ball into the net for his first goal since January 2008. It was his first goal in 187 games.
The Impossible Dream Made Possible
When Sir Alex took over, Liverpool had dominated English and European Football for two decades and it seemed like an impossible dream for United to emulate the achievements of their northwest rival. Sir Alex made that dream a reality.
Fox Sports interviewed several of Ferguson’s most renowned former players prior to the game. Bryan Robson stated, “I don’t think anyone will ever surpass what he has achieved at this football club.”
Striker Andy Cole was an integral part of that famous treble winning side. He hailed Sir Alex Ferguson as “probably the greatest club manager there has ever been” who was “inspirational” in the way he could somehow manage to always get the very best out of his players.
“He is,” said Cole, “a special man.”
So ends an era.
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