This was it. The final game ever to be played at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. The end of an era. The day his side were due to lift the Premier League trophy, in a farewell to arguably the greater manager of all time. Would his side give him the send off he deserved, with victory over Swansea?
In a packed stadium, the players went out and formed a Guard of Honour, to which Sir Alex Ferguson walked out to a sea of red flags, white ones in the away end, and a rapturous reception as he made his way promptly to the dugout for the final time. It was quite a scene, one that many enjoyed and will remember, but it would not have been a fitting send off, if United did not follow it up with a strong performance. For the big day, David De Gea started in goal, with the classic partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the centre. Phil Jones and Patrice Evra occupied the flanks. In midfield, Michael Carrick and the retiring Paul Scholes paired up, with Welbeck and Kagawa out wide. Finally, up front stood Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez.
United started brightly, playing with pace they quickly found chances, as Van Persie played in Hernandez on the left, the Mexican looking as though he had missed his chance before getting a shot away and hitting the bar. Swansea themselves started well and responded, the other Hernandez firing just wide moments later. The game slowed slightly soon after and took on the feel of an exhibition game, lacking the tenacity of other ties, with a sense of the occasion evident in the air. Despite this, the crowd were in fine voice, the Stretford End, chanting through a list of legends adored by fans and taking a jab about the seemingly outgoing City manager, Roberto Mancini. The game went through a reasonably quiet spell, neither side truly breaking through, despite glimpses of threat from either side.
Van Persie tested the keeper from distance, on his left foot, forcing him into a fairly comfortable save. Hernandez was presented with another chance by Van Persie, but the striker shot over. With under 10 minutes to play of Sir Alex’s final first half at Old Trafford, United won a free kick, after Welbeck and Taylor clashed in an attempt to win the ball. A few nervous moments for Taylor, given his recent troubles with injury. Van Persie whipped in the resulting free kick, the Swansea defence failed to clear the ball, it popped out to Hernandez who finished well to give his side a 1-0 lead, going into half time.
The second half began, and within minutes, the visitors looked to try to spoil the party. After failing to properly clear a corner, the ball came back in from the right from Dyer, Michu beat Jones to volley well past De Gea, to silence the crowd and bring the score back to 1-1. Indeed from there, the visitors grew into the game more, threatening quickly on the break and showing real signs that they could end Sir Alex’s time at Old Trafford with a loss. There were penalty appeals just after the hour mark as Chico’s shot was blocked by Jones who’s arms were raised, but the ball did not strike him where it was thought originally.
Soon after, it was time for the fans to say good bye to another legend, as the board was raised for Paul Scholes to make his exit to a standing ovation from all, replaced by Valencia. Welbeck made way for Anderson at the same time. The home side began to push more as it became clear that a winner could come from anywhere. With 13 minutes left, Sir Alex made his final substitution, in a move that had a whiff of sentimentality about it, who else but Ryan Giggs stood on the touchline to come on, replacing the opening scorer Hernandez, to come on to a warm reception.
With just under 5 minutes left, United broke, the ball fell to Van Persie from distance, taking the shot on himself he got a big deflection to win a corner. The Dutchman whipped in a ball that got to Vidic in the middle of the box, helped on and bouncing up to Ferdinand on the far side, the defender almost in slow motion, lashing at the ball on the volley, hammering the ball home to a huge roar from the Stretford End. Scenes of jubilation as the defender, having scored his first goal in 5 years, celebrated in an outburst of emotion and passion.
With Old Trafford rocking, the clock wound down, through 3 minutes of injury time as the final whistle blew and gave a fitting end to Sir Alex’s time at Old Trafford. In the pouring rain, with both sets of fans hanging around, the manager gave an emotional speech, before the celebrations began, with Sir Alex given the chance to lift the Premier League trophy first.
With that, after an emotional day for many, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Goodbye Sir Alex
It is a bit strange, knowing that we will never see Sir Alex Ferguson take his place in the dugout, ever again. Fans will have to get used to a new face in David Moyes from next season. As many have only ever known United under Ferguson, it will be quite an adjustment, but as he said in a wonderful speech post-match, it falls to all of the fans, to fully back the new manager in charge as he takes over in July, through good times and bad. In fact, it was rather fitting the goal was scored when it was. Not quite in Fergie time, as is so often the case, United left it late, scoring through Rio Ferdinand lashing it home, his first in 5 years. The outburst of emotion from Ferdinand was enough to show what it meant to him and set a record in United having their 20th different scorer this season.
That moment when he lifted the trophy and celebrated with his squad of 11 grandchildren and the other players’ families, one could not help but feel a sense of sadness as well as joy at the scenes of celebration. A huge moment for the club and all those associated with it.
2) Sir Alex’s Speech – about everyone, but himself
As the legendary manager stood on the pitch, taking the microphone to deliver one final speech, one could sense he was trying to hold back the emotion. In an unscripted speech, one he thought would be rambling, one could just hear the breaking in his voice as he delivered many messages and lessons that we could all take away as United look to the future. Among them, an expression of gratitude to fans, staff and board members and those that stood by him through good times and bad, something that he reminded the fans to do for the new man coming in. It was an important message of support for David Moyes, and an undoubted backing to the man set to replace him.
A reminder to the players as well, of their duties at the club, among them “… you know the jersey you are wearing, do not let yourselves down”. He also looked forward to actually enjoying the games, rather than fretting over them, spectating as a fan, rather than manager. In what was a moving and passionate moment for those watching, he also took the time to wish Scholes a happy retirement, as well as the unwell Darren Fletcher, who is currently recovering from surgery to alleviate his chronic bowel condition.
As Sir Alex has so often done, his words were about and directed to everyone else, messages for people to take home rather than one about himself. His post-match interview was yet more candid, as he revealed his reasons for retiring for the sake of his wife, acknowledging the sacrifices she made for his career, and the death of her sister as the final decision that set him on the path to retirement, one that he made before Christmas, keeping a secret until March when he told his sons.
3) Confirmation that Rooney handed in a transfer request, swiftly rejected
One notable absence from the starting line up, and indeed the squad altogether was that of Wayne Rooney. The striker could be seen in the stands with many speculating that this signalled his impending departure from the club. He did not even show for the manager’s final speech, just before the trophy presentation. When many suddenly trying to analyse the body language between the two, it was the post-match interview in which the answers came. Sir Alex pointed out, when asked of Rooney’s absence, that he had handed in a transfer request and that he felt Rooney was not too keen to play on this occasion and so left him out. He said that Rooney was unhappy at being taken off or being left on the bench at times this season, something that Ferguson pointed out would not happen to a Wayne Rooney on top form.
He suggested that Rooney use the Summer to think on it and perhaps come to his sense. Of course, now it will be down to David Moyes as to whether Rooney remains at the club. One sense he is not happy at having played second fiddle at times this season, with Van Persie becoming the centre of attention at the club. That said, the signs were there that something was amiss when he handed in a transfer request the first time, a couple of years back. Whatever the reasons for recent events and wherever his future lies, one wonders what kind of effect today’s events had on him, whether they swayed him or not. Whatever happens to be the case, United have an option in Kagawa providing an immediate replacement, the Japanese midfielder known to prefer playing just behind the striker.
If he ultimately chooses to stay, then there will still be a role for him at the club, but if Moyes chooses to cash in on him, the club will move on, as it always has done.
4) Paul Scholes – retiring for a second time, a true United legend
In stark contrast to that of Rooney, Paul Scholes was given a start on his final appearance at Old Trafford, bowing out of the game for a second time, revered by players and fans alike. It was a good performance for the midfielder, after a significant period of time out with injury he showed his usual skill in passing and was active in the early stages. It was clear that his teammates wanted him to score, setting him up, most notable when Hernandez played played a ball into him in a quick move on the edge of the box, Scholes just in front of the ball, too awkward to get a shot away. With over an hour played, it was time for him to make his departure, given a huge ovation in an acknowledgement of an illustrious career at the club, appreciated by all.
5) It was never “just another match”
As much as it was a competitive Premier League game, one could sense everyone knew that was not simply another match, as much as they tried. The sense of the occasion dominated proceedings from the start, the atmosphere and significance of the event was overwhelming. As a result, the match felt almost exhibition-like at times. The referee was not kept particularly busy, particularly in the first half as both sides played in a civilised manner. The second half felt more competitive, as Swansea looked to get forward more and posed a genuine threat, especially on the counter. At times, it looked as though Swansea could spoil Sir Alex’s final home game, going for a winner when they could, proving the tough opposition that they have been all season. Fortunately, it was not to be when Ferdinand popped up with an emphatic winner in the final minutes of normal time, to give Sir Alex Ferguson the perfect send off, and prepare the fans for life after Fergie.