Ferguson set for emotional Old Trafford farewell
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
A file picture taken on December 30, 2006, shows Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson waving to the crowd prior to a match against Reading in Manchester. AFP photoThe eyes of the football world will be on Old Trafford on Sunday when Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson oversees his final home game before retirement after 26 years in charge of the English champions.
Further proof that an extraordinary era was coming to an end arrived late on Saturday when long-serving United midfielder Paul Scholes, a one-club man who came up through a youth system revitalised under Ferguson's guidance, announced he, too, was retiring.
Ferguson's retirement announcement on Wednesday stunned the sporting world and relegated the Queen's Speech -- the formal declaration of the UK government's legislative programme for the forthcoming Parliamentary session -- to second place on British television news programmes.
Swansea are the opponents for Ferguson's Old Trafford farewell, which fittingly will include the official presentation of the Premier League trophy to United -- almost three weeks after they secured what has turned out to be the Scot's final piece of silverware in a remarkable career.
Ferguson, 71, guided United to 13 Premier League titles and two European Champions League crowns in 26 years that yielded an astounding 38 major trophies in total for the north-west side.
Arguably the highlight of his career was the unprecedented Treble of 1999, which included the Premier League, FA Cup and a thrilling come-from-behind win against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
Britain's Sunday newspapers all piled in to pay their own tributes, with the Observer devoting a 12-page supplement to Ferguson's years at United, as well as lengthy pieces on its news and sports pages.
One of these quoted Liam Brennan, a United fan who had come to Old Trafford with his son ahead of the Swansea match to see if there had been any returned tickets.
"I'm just about old enough to remember the bad times before Ferguson arrived," said Brennan. "But all my son has ever seen is me jumping around the living room when we've won trophies. So it's that sense of the unknown: it's like a death in the family." Indeed, what made Ferguson's achievement all the more impressive was that United were the sleeping giants of English football when he arrived at the club in November 1986.
The first Premier League title of his reign ended the club's 26-year wait to be crowed English champions since United's glory days of the late 1960s under another Scottish manager in Matt Busby.
In an era where hire-and-fire became standard managerial policy among many top English clubs, Ferguson's United career has been as remarkable for its longevity as its success.
Equally in an age of rapidly rising player wages, Ferguson was one of the last true old-school managers capable of blistering the walls with his infamous 'hairdryer' rants at under-performing millionaires, who might have ignored such criticism from lesser men.
Yet even his once iron grip appears to have been fraying of late, with the Sunday Express, under the back-page headline 'Worried About Roo', suggesting star striker Wayne Rooney was ready to quit United after a prolonged falling out with Ferguson.
Rumours of the manager's retirement only began circulating late on Tuesday, but Ferguson said it was a decision he had been considering for some time.
"The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly. It is the right time," said Ferguson, who will remain at United as a director and ambassador.
He is expected to take to the microphone following the Swansea game to say his goodbyes and there will be barely a dry eye among the packed house at Old Trafford, a stadium which has grown in size considerably during his tenure and now has a stand named after Ferguson and a statue of the manager outside the ground.
The final game of his United reign will be against West Bromwich Albion the following week at the Hawthorns before Everton boss David Moyes, who signed a six-year deal on Thursday and who has long had the seal of approval from his fellow Scot, takes charge on July 1.
Moyes also faces an emotional day on Sunday, with Everton's Goodison Park fixture against West Ham United marking the final home match of his 11 years in charge of the Liverpool-based side.