Manchester United 2-1 Swansea City match reaction from Old Trafford, 12th May 2012
I know it’s supposed to be about playing the game and not the occasion, but there are times when the former is never going to exceed the magnitude of the latter. Such was always going to be the case when Manchester United played Swansea City this afternoon. Inevitably, a team who’d already secured the Premiership title played out a fairly tepid encounter against another who’d settled into a secure mid-table position. The result was 2-1 to the champions, but for once observing victory in the match wasn’t the main reason we went to Old Trafford on this rainy May afternoon.
Unless you’ve spent the last week in Antarctica or on the moon, you’ll know that we were there for something far more important: to say goodbye to a man who’s name will forever be synonymous with our great club and who has set records in the English game that it’s hard to imagine anyone surpassing: more than twenty-six unbroken years as manager of a single club and thirteen league titles. But it’s a measure of the greatness of Alex Ferguson that those bare facts don’t get close to summing it up. He’s done far more than simply be achieve success: he’s done it while both respecting and upholding what this club is about while giving us moments way beyond the expectations of United fans like me when he arrived in 1986.
In addition to our Old Trafford farewell to Fergie, we said goodbye also to a player who’s arguably represented those same values more than any player of the modern era. Paul Scholes was, fittingly, out there on the pitch today, spraying trademark passes around the pitch, throwing in the odd lunging tackle for posterity and even at times rolling back the years by making those late runs into the box that he once did as an unassuming young lad who happened to double as a model professional and custodian of the dreams and ambitions of so many United fans.
Scholes continued to look as good as just about anybody else on the pitch, perhaps second only to Van Persie who failed to get on the score sheet but who produced so many of those sublime touches and intelligent runs that have been such an integral part of United’s success this season. Carrick partnered Scholes in midfield, the two at times conducting an elegant symphony that had the air of an exhibition match about it, but then in a way that’s exactly what this was. Swansea played their part for spells in the game, trading one-touch football that was ever bit as slick as that of United. At the centre of it all was Michu who managed, while not looking fully fit, to look every inch a performer at home on the Old Trafford turf.
His elegant finish provided Swansea’s second half equalizer, sandwiched in between two classic strikers’ finishes that won United the game: the first came from Chicharito, swooping on a defensive mistake to prod home. The second, rather less predictably, was supplied by Rio Ferdinand just three minutes from time. Rio had been getting forward at every opportunity all afternoon so it wasn’t such a surprise to find him on hand to slam the ball home and celebrate like a kid on the playground. Rooney didn’t feature and it was confirmed by Fergie that he’d submitted a transfer request. I’d be disappointed to see him go but not devastated, and the boos of sections of the the United support when he collected his medal suggested that this time, if he changes his mind and decides to stay, he’ll have a much more difficult job to win round the fans.
In a farewell speech that hit all the right notes, Fergie typically called for fans to rally around their new manager. Despite the concerns I raised about this earlier in the week, the mood around Old Trafford seemed to suggest that the vast majority of us have got enough faith in our former manager’s judgement to give Moyes the settling in time he’ll need. We’ll expect success, though, simply because there remains so much evidence on the pitch that he’s inheriting a side with so much promise. Phil Jones operated at right back today, but is such a phenomenal athlete that he was able to double up in central defence whenever Rio went foraging upfield; Kagawa continues to look a player about to become something special very soon, while even the loudest of De Gea doubters seem to have been silenced over the last few months. And that’s to name just three.
If we were hoping for one more majestic performance to provide the ultimate full stop to Fergie’s reign at Old Trafford, we didn’t get it. What we got was a United side playing a game in third gear but still able to dig out a victory due to a spirit that refused to give up even as the game entered its final minutes and most supporters’ minds had long turned to the imminent speech and trophy celebration. The players’ minds hadn’t and Rio’s winner was celebrated just as wildly as was the imminent trophy presentation. I can’t help thinking that that’s exactly how Fergie would have wanted it.