MANCHESTER: Alex Ferguson’s last home match in charge of Manchester United ended in a 2-1 Premier League victory over Swansea City as the Old Trafford crowd gave their long-serving manager a warm and emotional send-off on Sunday.
Defender Rio Ferdinand struck the winner for the champions three minutes from time, yet another one of the late goals which have been a feature of Ferguson’s 26-year reign at the club.
Ferguson, in his 1 499th game at the helm, received a rapturous reception from the fans and a guard of honour from the players of both teams as he walked out in heavy rain. He returned to the pitch with a microphone after the match.
“Everyone at the club and you the fans, you have been the most fantastic experience of my life,” a clearly emotional Ferguson said.
“Thank you. I have been very fortunate to manage some of the greatest players in the country. These players have won the championship in fantastic fashion. Well done to them.
“When we had bad times here, everyone stood by me and your job now is to stand by your new manager (David Moyes).”
Ferguson left the field and the United players returned to collect their medals and the Premier League trophy, the club’s 20th top-flight crown.
United captain Nemanja Vidic was handed the trophy, but he passed it on to Ferguson, who gleefully held it aloft.
“My retirement doesn’t mean the end of my life with the club. I’ll be able to enjoy watching them, rather than suffer with them,” he added.
“If you think about it, those last-minute goals, those comebacks, even the defeats, are all part of this great club of ours. It’s been an unbelievable experience for all of us, so thank you for that.”
Ferguson proved before the game he was still prepared to make tough decisions by leaving striker Wayne Rooney out of the squad, increasing speculation about his future with the club.
He later confirmed that Rooney has asked to leave the club for the second time in three years.
“I don’t think Wayne was keen to play because he’s asked for a transfer and he wants to think it through in his mind,” Ferguson told Sky Sports. “We’re not going to let him go.”
United started brightly and Javier Hernandez scooped a shot on to the underside of the crossbar after five minutes.
The home side dominated possession and they opened the scoring after 39 minutes when Mexican Hernandez reacted sharply to sweep a loose ball low into the net from six metres.
Swansea briefly silenced the crowd when striker Michu equalised four minutes after halftime, getting in front of Phil Jones to steer a cross firmly past David de Gea for his 18th league goal of the season.
Midfielder Paul Scholes, making his 717th and final appearance for United, was substituted after 66 minutes and left the field in typically modest fashion to more warm applause.
Ryan Giggs, who has played in each of Ferguson’s 13 title-winning teams, came on as a late replacement, and although Swansea threatened to grab a winner, it was United who found one.
A right-wing corner fell kindly to Ferdinand at the far post and the England defender gleefully lashed the ball into the net from six metres.
United are 13 points ahead of second-placed Manchester City with one match left in the season, away at West Bromwich Albion next Sunday.
In another sign of the changing times at Old Trafford, Scholes made his farewell appearance after announcing that he is to retire for the second time.
The 38-year-old English midfielder, who returned from retirement in January last year after only seven months out of the game, revealed late on Saturday that he will hang up his boots “for good” at the end of the current campaign.
Scholes played for just over an hour before being substituted to a standing ovation.
The one-club man, a member of the celebrated “Fergie fledglings”, came through the Old Trafford youth system revitalised by Ferguson and into the United first team.
“Today, it was just nice to get through the game. I thought Sir Alex handled it well,” former England midfielder Scholes said. “He has done a fantastic job here.
“I know it’s the right time for me to go,” the 38-year-old added. “It’s not been the season I would have liked personally, but we’ve won the league and it’s a great day.”
Giggs, who made his United debut in 1991 and has become synonymous with the club’s success in winning 38 trophies under Ferguson, said his most vivid recollections of the manager were some of his oldest too.
“The memories of him that stick out are when I was younger. When I was 13 playing for Salford Boys and looking to the sidelines and there was Alex Ferguson watching.”
While Giggs has known Ferguson since he was a teenager, for Robin van Persie this term was a new experience following the Dutch striker’s pre-season transfer from Premier League rivals Arsenal.
“From my point of view, I think it’s a massive honour for me to have been involved with him,” said Van Persie, Ferguson’s last major signing.
“One year is not a lot, but it was an unbelievable year and such an impact.
“He is a great manager, but an even greater person. The way he is, the way he handles his players, the way he is in general as a person, is unbelievable.”
Meanwhile, cross-town rivals Manchester City are expected to dismiss manager Roberto Mancini later this week, according to reports in the British media on Sunday.
Stories emerging in the Spanish press this week claimed that City are poised to replace the Italian with Malaga’s Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini, and the English Premier League club have so far failed to provide any clarification over Mancini’s position.
Speaking after City’s shock 1-0 loss to Wigan Athletic in Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, Mancini criticised his employers for not publicly addressing the rumours.
Speaking to the media in his post-game press conference, he said: “You continue to talk about this for six months and also in the last two weeks, too much.
“I don’t know why the club didn’t stop this, because I didn’t think it was correct. I don’t think that it’s true,” the former Inter Milan boss added. – Sapa-AFP, Reuters