x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Old Trafford pays final tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson's last home game as manager was marked by a 2-1 win over Swansea City, a 13th English Premier League title and plenty of plaudits, reports Richard Jolly from Old Trafford.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, centre, walks onto the pitch at Old Trafford for his last game as manager. Andrew Yates / AFP
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, centre, walks onto the pitch at Old Trafford for his last game as manager. Andrew Yates / AFP

After 26 years and six months, "Fergie Time" at Old Trafford has finally come to an end.

A reign of rare longevity, a career of sustained success that is utterly unparalleled, is effectively over at Manchester United's home. Its major character has appeared and will top the bill at "The Theatre of Dreams" no more.

Sir Alex Ferguson will manage United for the 1,500th and last time at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, but this was Old Trafford's home send-off to a legend. He left the pitch for the final time, appropriately enough, after yet another late winner, to a chorus of "Fergie, we love you".

The feeling is entirely mutual.

"It has been the most fantastic experience of my life," he said afterwards, addressing the crowd. "I have been fortunate to manage some of the greatest players in the country, let alone Manchester United.

"My retirement doesn't mean the end of my life with the club. I will be able to enjoy watching them, rather than suffer with them. It has been an unbelievable experience for all of us."

His final game certainly was, even if not for the match.

A banner simply said: "Sir Alex – immortal". With a stand bearing his name and a statue showing his image, he is.

As long as there is Old Trafford, there will be Sir Alex Ferguson and as long as there is football, he will have set the gold standard for managers. He has won 49 trophies, 38 of them for United, and 13 league titles. No wonder Ferguson entered to the sounds of The Impossible Dream.

"Managers and players, they come and go but not [lasting] 26, 27 years," said Michael Laudrup, a world-class player turned Swansea City manager.

"You are talking about something very special in football."

Others have paid their tributes, whether Ferguson's past and present players, his peers or the fourth estate, with industrial quantities of ink required for the special supplements commemorating perhaps the greatest manager of all.

This, however, was Old Trafford's chance to show its gratitude. The cover of the match day programme said simply: "Thank you Sir Alex."

Often quiet, Old Trafford got its atmosphere back. This was a party, a celebration not so much of the 20th league title –whatever the flags every supporter waved said – but of the 13 the Scot has won in his 26-year reign. The last trophy was presented to Ferguson by two of his former captains, Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce.

Ferguson entered to a guard of honour, formed by both teams. He turned to all four stands, applauding them, before making his way to his dugout. For the last time, he was a crowd-pleaser. After a quarter of an hour, the fans called for a wave from Ferguson. Without leaving his seat in the dugout, he obliged with a raised arm.

Thereafter, there was a roll call of past United greats in the songs. Ferguson himself was mentioned comparatively rarely: that is one of the ways of things at Old Trafford. Whereas Kenny Dalglish and Rafa Benitez were serenaded constantly at Anfield or Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, chants about Ferguson have been rarer. Often unmentioned, however, he is invariably appreciated.

There was, though, another retiree. Paul Scholes dislikes fanfare. When the PA announcer read out his name for the final time as he was substituted, he received a deafening ovation. Ever understated, Scholes only acknowledged it with a quick clap towards the East Stand. To his probable embarrassment, Ferguson gushed about him.

"An unbelievable player for this club," the manager said.

He has been a loyalist over two decades. Wayne Rooney, who has asked to leave, was not surprisingly excluded. In his absence, Javier Hernandez made the most of a rare start.

The Mexican hit the underside of the bar in the fifth minute and scored six minutes before half time, reacting with typical sharpness when Robin van Persie's free kick bounced off Ashley Williams and into his path.

Michu levelled for Swansea with a glorious volley before United, as they have time and again under Ferguson, snatched the points late on, courtesy of Rio Ferdinand's thumping finish.

"The last-minute goals, the comebacks, even the defeats are part of this great football club," Ferguson added.

And then a man who many wanted sacked in 1989 bowed out by urging Old Trafford to give his successor, David Moyes, the benefit of the doubt.

"I would like to remind you that when we had bad times here, the club stood by me, all my staff stood by me, the players stood by me," Ferguson said to the fans. "Your job now is to stand by our new manager."

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