United delivered perfect swan song for Sir Alex

Posted by Musa Okwonga

Anyone tuning in to watch Manchester United's 2-1 win over Swansea Sunday could be forgiven for forgetting that there was a game in the middle of it all. The match was overshadowed by a variety of narratives, chief among them the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, followed fairly sharply on its heels by Paul Scholes' decision to make this his final season and Wayne Rooney's request for a transfer. The only thing that could have stolen the show was if Bane had pitched up to the stadium.

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It’s probably a bit of a stretch to compare Sir Alex to the Dark Knight, particularly because the Glaswegian has been as much the villain as the hero the past few decades. Within Old Trafford, though, the adulation was universal. This was like a victorious general entering the Colosseum for the final time, and the crowd of 80,000 remained in full and adoring voice throughout.

Ah, yes, the game. With Rooney not even on the roster, even though he had professed on Twitter only a few hours earlier to be looking forward to the match, United began with Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie up front. They were seemingly keen to treat their manager in front of a home crowd one last time, and the opening minutes were filled with swift and elegant movement.

Hernandez hit the crossbar after one such exchange of passes, and it was the Mexican forward who opened the scoring after Ashley Williams, looking strikingly one-footed, shinned an attempted clearance into his path 8 yards out.

Thereafter, the game proceeded rather like a Sunday afternoon at a summer music festival, with long, laconic passes from left to right by the home side, but little obvious penetration. Swansea, for its part, forced the issue as much as it could, but with its own silverware and Premier League status both safely secure, they made for relatively sedate opponents.

That was the case until the second half, when Michu, outstanding this year, put his stamp on the proceedings with a beautifully angled volley from a corner. It was Rio Ferdinand, of all people, who ended the match in appropriate fashion, thrashing home his first goal in five years from close range in the 86th minute. After so many years of seizing points through desperate finishes, it seemed only a late goal would do.

Of course, the true drama took place away from the field Sunday, with the reports that Roberto Mancini soon would be leaving Manchester City, yet another victim of Ferguson’s success in the Premier League, but also a victim of his own failure to make progress against supposedly weaker sides in the Champions League.

Rooney, meanwhile, was left to reflect in the stands on an uncertain future. He is due to be supplanted by Shinji Kagawa, one of the outstanding young talents in world football, at No. 10, and at least second to the incomparable van Persie at No. 9. Rooney remains a fine player, but as the old saying goes, the juice may no longer be worth the squeeze.

His contribution on the field must be weighed carefully against the potentially corrosive influence that he may have in the dressing room. On present evidence, the scales of such an argument are not in his favor.

Elsewhere, Scholes is set to slip quietly away. The taciturn midfielder will do so with a wealth of stories behind Ferguson’s success that he will never reveal to the media, and as such is the epitome of Ferguson’s ethos: the team must present a united front to outsiders at all times. Mancini's failings on the field were one thing, but he was also notably quick to call out his players in public, and this habit cannot have delayed his departure.

Sunday, though, was ultimately all about one man, and fittingly it was Ferguson who was given the Premier League trophy to hold aloft. There are several championships, most notably in 2010-11, the club would not have won but for Ferguson’s presence, and it was stirring to see him raise his final one. Even he, normally a sanguine soul, was visibly moved as he looked up to the rafters for the final time, as the chants of his name lingered long and then out into the evening air.

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