• A fitting farewell at Old Trafford
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     | May 13,2013
     
    AP Photo

    Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson lifts the Premier League trophy after his last home game in charge of the club at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England, Sunday.

    The Manchester rain fell relentlessly on the end of Alex Ferguson’s extraordinary reign at Old Trafford.

    For the 723rd and final time in the stadium where he has built a surely unsurpassable record of team management, Ferguson, the knight of British soccer, walked out Sunday to a double guard of honor: his United players to the left, the visiting Swansea City team to the right, friend and foe, applauding him.

    In his familiar old gray coat, chewing gum as always, his stride busy and quick, he looked straight ahead with the air of a man wishing this were all over. The stadium was a riot of color, more than 70,000 red flags denoting that, once again, his team was England’s champion; and 6,000 white flags thoughtfully provided for the Swansea fans, whose team had won the League Cup, the first major trophy in its history.

    They forget nothing at Old Trafford.

    There will be one more match with Ferguson in charge — his 1,500th for this club — next weekend, but at West Bromwich in the English Midlands.

    So this was the big farewell.

    Players of Ferguson’s past, including the former stalwart captains Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson, were in the stands, alongside Bobby Charlton. Also among the spectators, dropped so far as we knew, was Wayne Rooney.

    To the bittersweet end, Ferguson was making a point. Rooney had asked for a transfer from United, and as much as Ferguson had admired his talent, as much as they had shared great times, there was no place at the final Ferguson party for anyone who broke the team essence that had been the manager’s credo throughout his 50 years of playing and coaching.

    He was ruthless to the end, yet sentimental, too, because Ferguson’s final Old Trafford lineup placed youth side by side with players of a venerable status. At the heart of the team, also retiring, Paul Scholes was chosen to start his 717th United game.

    Scholes is 38 and has a persistently injured knee, but Ferguson regards him as one of the most talented and selfless players he has ever worked with. So Scholes just had to play. Ryan Giggs, another magnificent loyalist, would come on in the second half, but in every area of the field there were the players Ferguson regards as the future, the legacy he is handing on.

    The recipient of that legacy, David Moyes, could not be at the party. A consummate professional in the Ferguson mold, Moyes was at Goodison Park, a 40-minute drive down the road, where he was seeing Everton to a 2-0 victory over West Ham, the last home game of Moyes’ 11-year career there.

    As Moyes took his own lap of honor in a packed stadium, Manchester United was coming out of the tunnel for a tumultuous second half. Ferguson’s favorite Mexican, Javier Hernandez, known as Chicharito, had poached a goal in the first half, but Swansea mounted an honorable resistance.

    Its leading scorer this season, the Spaniard Michu, stole in with a typically sweet equalizer, volleyed in off the outside of his left foot.

    Now the game was rousing; now the Ferguson gum was being ferociously chewed. And now his players were moving mightily to get that winner. It came from the least expected source, from the feet of Rio Ferdinand.

    Ferdinand, a defender who had not scored in five years, lurked at the far post after a corner kick, and it fell to him to make that final touch, the final home goal under the management of Alex Ferguson, for a 2-1 victory.

    Then, in the rain, Ferguson took the microphone and addressed the crowd.

    “I’m going home,” he said. “Well, I’m going inside for a while. Eleven grandchildren,” he added, as if that were explanation enough for what his future holds.

    He isn’t going away. He is going upstairs to the boardroom, where his presence will be both a comfort and a pressure to Moyes, the successor he recommended personally to the Glazer family, the team’s owner.

    Thanking the crowd, thanking the players, thanking everyone, it seemed — including the backroom staff at the training complex that has been his empire — Ferguson finally asked them to give the same support to “our new manager.”

    With that, he came in out of the rain: a manager whose time had come, at age 71, to close his active career of being at every training session, every game, every inquisition and every party in a run that spanned 2,153 games — 1,251 won and only 412 lost — in Scotland and, for 26 years, at this Manchester club.

    When he said he was going home, most of us were baffled. Old Trafford was, and will always be, his home away from home. We heard his voice break during that impromptu final speech, and that was a first.

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