It wasn’t quite Fergie time, but the timing worked all the same. So did the player who scored it, with Rio Ferdinand’s 87th minute header giving Manchester United an appropriately dramatic 2-1 win over Swansea City, sending Sir Alex Ferguson off with a victory in his last game at the Theatre of Dreams.
Ferguson, who announced the end of his 26-season run earlier this week, was able to celebrate one of the hallmarks of his Old Trafford tenure – a late winner. The most famous came in 1999, when United scored twice in stoppage time to claim a Champions League title over Bayern Munich in Barcelona, but for sentimental reasons, Manchester United fans may prove as apt to remember today’s clincher. Amid the emotion of the manager’s send off game, it was only right that Manchester United’s inexplicable tendency to steal games was on display one last time.
“If you think about it, those last-minute goals, the comebacks, even the defeats, are all part of this great football club of ours,” Ferguson said after the game, addressing the crowd during United’s post-match ceremonies.
That is was Ferdinand that got the winner couldn’t have been more appropriate. Ferguson made the England international the most expensive British player in history when he signed him from Leeds United in 2002. Since, through suspension, injury, and controversy, Ferdinand has remained a cornerstone of United’s defense, even when fitness had many suggesting Ferguson should move on. But in a season that saw Ferdinand rebound and claim a spot in the Professional Footballers Association team of the year, the veteran defender claimed his manager’s final Old Trafford goal.
Minutes later, after the final whistle had blown and the victors celebrated the club’s 20th first division title, Ferguson spoke to the crowd from the center circle, saying his final goodbyes to the United fan base (full transcript):
“First of all, it’s a thank you to Manchester United. Not just the directors, not just the medical staff, not just the coaching staff, the players or the supporters, it’s all of you. You have been the most fantastic experience of my life.
“I have been very fortunate to manage some of the greatest players in the country, let alone Manchester United. All these players here today have represented your club the proper way – they’ve won the championship in a fantastic fashion …”
“My retirement doesn’t mean the end of my relationship with the club, I’m able to now enjoy watching them rather than suffering with them …”
“I’d also 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 and your job now is to stand by your new manager.”
“The players… I wish the players every success in the future. You know how good you are, you know the jersey you’re wearing, you know what it means to everyone here and don’t ever let yourself down. The expectation is always there.
Manchester United has one final match of the Ferguson era, next week at West Brom, but today was the real send off. Giving thanks on the part of himself and his entire family (with 11 grandchildren in attendance), Sir Alex completed the final chapter of the greatest managerial career in soccer history. All that remains is the epilogue.