There is a match at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon, but few in the crowd will care for the action – not on Sir Alex Ferguson’s final home appearance in charge of United. Retiring after 27 years at the helm, Ferguson will say a last goodbye to the supporters who have cried his name for more than two decades. And emotions are sure to run high in the stands, even if the dead rubber on the pitch is of little consequence.
Ferguson has overseen the most decorated period in United’s history, securing 13 Premier League titles and two European Cups among more than 30 major trophies. It is a record without peer; one that will be celebrated as the Reds take on Swansea City in Manchester.
Sunday’s result is of little concern to many, although United’s limp end to the season has brought just two victories in seven matches, including last weekend’s home defeat to Chelsea. The Reds’ complacent performances in recent weeks are surely the result of a remarkably effortless march to this year’s title.
However, it is the big picture in focus on Sunday; United’s 20th league title honoured with the Premier League trophy presentation on the final whistle and Sir Alex’ farewell. The Scot will addresses the Old Trafford faithful for the final time at the close, while the occasion is set be marked with a ‘Champions 2013’ mosaic along the Stretford End as the teams enter the field. It is a celebration that United’s captain Nemanja Vidić is set to lead.
“I had the opportunity to lift the trophy after we won the 19th title and it is a great feeling,” said the Serbian defender.
“As a captain it is special. It is nice when you play for a club like Manchester United and you win a trophy. But it is the same feeling, whether you are captain or not. No-one has given any more or any less. We are a team and we all played a part.”
On the pitch Paul Scholes will play his final game for the club before retiring for a second time. The 38-year-old midfielder hasn’t featured since January with a knee injury, but will return to the team before taking a coaching role under new manager David Moyes next season. The flame-haired veteran has appeared 716 times for the club, scoring 155 goals.
“I am finally hanging up my boots for good,” said Scholes, who could start against the Swans.
“Playing football is all I have ever wanted to do, and so to have had such a long and successful career at Manchester United, under the greatest manager of all time, has been an honour.”
Ferguson could also recall veteran Rio Ferdinand for the final home game of the season, while midfielder Shinji Kagawa is also likely to feature. Rafael da Silva is suspended, but Danny Welbeck could return from injury.
Wayne Rooney, who reportedly asked for a transfer for the second time in his United career three weeks ago, will remain on the bench. He may never start a match for the club again.
Meanwhile, the visitors arrive in mixed form having won just once in the past six. However, Michael Laudrup’s side has secured 46 points this year, guaranteeing the Welsh club Premier League football next season. Indeed, the Dane’s side needs just two points more to improve on a fine 2011/12 campaign.
The visitors are without Angel Rangel and goalkeeper Michel Vorm, but top-scorer Michu, defender Chico Flores and Ki Sung-Yueng should all feature at Old Trafford.
Still, Sunday has little to do with the game. Not with two greats of the game moving on. Scholes and Ferguson have each enjoyed one ‘retirement’ a decade apart – neither will return this time around. And while Scholes’ presence will be missed, it is Ferguson’s departure that threatens to fundamentally shake up the club this summer.
Alongside Ferguson, the chief executive David Gill, scout Martin Ferguson, and potential a clutch of coaches will also depart.
Questions of the future can wait though. After all, the mood will be celebratory on Sunday, rather than one of trepidation.
“I don’t think anyone thought the day would come when Sir Alex retired,” said new United manager David Moyes.
“We all thought he was superhuman. He will be sorely missed, particularly by a lot of managers because he always spoke to them. He would always have a quiet word for anybody who was out of work or going into a job. His respect is beyond any real words. Everyone has great admiration for him. Any words I say won’t do it justice because of what the man has done.”
But if words can’t do Ferguson justice then the emotion of more than 70,000 at Old Trafford surely will. It should be quite a send off.
Manchester United v Swansea City- Premier League, Old Trafford – 4pm, 12 May 2013
United (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Jones, Vidić, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Scholes; Valencia, Kagawa, Welbeck; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Evans, Powell, Cleverley, Anderson, Rooney, Nani, Hernández
Swansea (4-3-3): Tremmel; Tiendalli, Williams, Chico, Davies; De Guzman, Britton, Routledge, Pablo, Michu, Shechter. Subs from: Cornell, Bartley, Taylor, Dyer, Agustien, Moore, Donnelly, Monk, Lamah, Situ
Referee: Jon Moss
Assistants: A Halliday, P Bankes
Fourth Official: M Clattenburg
Last 10: United 6, Swansea 1, Draw 3
Overall: United 8, Swansea 6, Draw 5
- Sir Alex takes charge of United at Old Trafford for the final time on Sunday; his 1499th game in charge of the club;
- Ferguson’s captain, Nemanja Vidić made 24 interceptions last weekend in United’s loss to Chelsea at Old Trafford – the highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index during the last round of games;
- One of Ferguson’s key demands is his players’ work either – striker Robin van Persie is not only leading the Premier League’s goal scoring charts this season, but has made more clearances than any other forward in the league with 31;
- Patrice Evra has enjoyed a fine season, winning 64.1 per cent of 82 tackles, completing 624 passes in the opposition half, and delivering 42 crosses, notching up six assists and four goals;
- On the opposite flank Rafael has made 111 defensive contributions including 52 interceptions, while winning 49 of 82 attempted tackles, and has also completed 531 passes in the opposition half;
- Swansea face United shortly after holding Manchester City to a scoreless draw and then beating Wigan Athletic 3-2 with goals from Angel Rangel, Itay Schechter and Dwight Tendalli;
- Ashley Williams garnered Sir Alex’ criticism earlier this season, but showed his value last weekend by making four crucial blocks – the joint highest by a player in the Index;
- Williams has made 388 defensive contributions this season – tackles won, interceptions, blocks and clearances – 50 more than his nearest rival, Fulham’s Brede Hangeland;
- Williams’ defensive partner Chico attempted his 100th tackle of the season in the last round of games – one of 22 players in the Index to have done so, and while being one of only five to have maintained a winning tackle percentage of over 60 per cent.