LONDON (AFP) – Alex Ferguson thanked Manchester United’s supporters and urged them to stand behind his successor, David Moyes, after an emotional final home game as manager at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Ferguson, who announced his shock retirement earlier this week, addressed supporters directly during an unscripted on-pitch speech after a 2-1 win over Swansea City closed his 26-year association with the Old Trafford dug-out.
“You’ve been the most fantastic experience of my life,” he said, as fans in the crowd of 75,572 fell silent to listen to the man who has brought 38 trophies to the club since arriving from Aberdeen in 1986.
“I’ve been very fortunate I’ve been able to manage some of the greatest players in the country, let alone Manchester United. All these players here today have represented the club the proper way and won the championship in fantastic fashion. Well done to the players.
“My retirement doesn’t mean the end of my life with the club. I’ll be able to enjoy watching them, rather than suffer with them.
“If you think about it, those last-minute goals, those comebacks, even the defeats, are all part of this great club of ours. It’s been an unbelievable experience for all of us, so thank you for that.
“I’d also like to remind you that when we had bad times here, the club stood by me, all the staff stood by me, and the players stood by me. Your job now is to stand by our new manager.”
Ferguson was later presented with the Premier League trophy, which United secured for an unprecedented 20th time three weeks ago, as the 13th title party of his Old Trafford tenure got underway.
Everton manager Moyes will take over as manager on July 1, having signed a six-year contract, with Ferguson taking up a role as a director and ambassador.
Fittingly, an 87th-minute goal by Rio Ferdinand in front of the Stretford End earned United victory, after Javier Hernandez’s first-half strike was cancelled out shortly after half-time by Michu.
Ferguson had earlier been given a guard of honour by players from United and Swansea as he made his way onto the pitch before the game.
Red flags brandished by supporters turned the stadium into a sea of red as Ferguson emerged from the tunnel wearing a trademark black overcoat, chewing gum and appearing slightly bashful as he acknowledged the supporters’ acclaim.
In another sign of the changing times at Old Trafford, Paul Scholes made his farewell appearance after announcing that he is to retire for the second time.
The 38-year-old English midfielder, who returned from retirement in January last year after only seven months out of the game, revealed late on Saturday that he will hang up his boots “for good” at the end of the current campaign.
Scholes played for 66 minutes before being substituted to a standing ovation, but Ferguson sprang a surprise by omitting Wayne Rooney from his squad altogether, amid reports the England striker has asked to leave the club for the second time in three years.
The final game of Ferguson’s United reign will be at West Bromwich Albion next weekend.
Moyes was given a warm send-off by Everton’s fans after his side beat West Ham United 2-0 at Goodison Park in his final home game.
Everton’s players formed a guard of honour after the game for Moyes and captain Phil Neville, who is also leaving the club at the end of the season following eight years’ service.
“There’s always a worry when you’re joining another club, but Everton fans were magnificent for me today,” Moyes told BBC Sport.
“David Unsworth scored my first goal at Goodison 11 years ago after about 25 seconds and I’m delighted I finished it off here with a win. I thank all the players who have worked with me.”
Elsewhere on Sunday, Emmanuel Adebayor scored an 83rd-minute winner for Tottenham Hotspur to snatch a 2-1 win at Stoke City that sent Spurs into the Champions League places at the expense of Arsenal, who host freshly-crowned FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic on Tuesday.
Wigan’s hopes of avoiding relegation were compromised after Norwich City beat West Bromwich Albion 4-0 and Newcastle United won 2-1 at relegated Queens Park Rangers to ease their own fears of sliding into the drop zone.
Sunderland drew 1-1 at home to Southampton and Fulham lost 3-1 at home to Liverpool, but although they are among seven sides theoretically at risk of relegation, Wigan must win their two remaining fixtures to stand any chance of overhauling them.