Ferguson’s managerial career ends with 5-5 draw

Alex Ferguson. Former Manchester United manager.

At the end of his 1,500th game in charge of Man United on

Sunday, the 71-year-old Scot bowed in front of thousands of

applauding fans – and then bowed out of soccer for good.

The most successful managerial career in British soccer history

is over, leaving a void that might not be filled for

generations.

And what a thrilling way to bow out at West Bromwich Albion in

central England – the first 5-5 draw in the Premier League on the

back of a 13th championship for Ferguson.

John Sivebaek scored 9,675 days ago for the first United goal

under Ferguson, and Javier Hernandez scored the last.

”It is not only a loss for the British fans but he has changed

football across the world,” Hernandez said. ”He has been here for

26 years and made the impossible dream come true.”

The official retirement party was last week at home when 76,000

fans at Old Trafford saluted Ferguson for delivering the

record-extending 20 English league title for United.

Referee Michael Oliver, only 1-year-old when Ferguson took

charge of United in 1986, blew the whistle on his glittering career

at the Hawthorns. From now on, the defensive fragilities on display

Sunday are incoming manager David Moyes’ problem.

After the match, the manager went over to bow to the United fans

who had backed him as he waited until 1990 to win the first of 38

trophies for the club.

Ferguson, a keen wine aficionado who is planning trips to

various vineyards in his retirement, later shared a $140 bottle of

2003 Chateau Pontet Canet Pauillac with West Brom manager Steve

Clarke.

”He said it was a good year,” Clarke said. ”It’s great he has

gone out as a champion … anyone who was in the stadium will

remember it for years.”

As customary as Ferguson’s post-match bottle of wine with rivals

is his reluctance to attend the media conference.

Sunday was no different.

But he couldn’t have been pleased to see his team throw away a

4-2 lead to be pegged back to 5-5. It had seemed like fate that

Ferguson would witness his team conjuring another memorable goal in

stoppage-time that had characterized his reign.

”I was waiting for some `Fergie Time,”’ United striker Robin

van Persie said. ”But it didn’t happen. It was good fun for

everyone, to score 10 goals.”

United defender Rio Ferdinand added on Twitter: ”What a mad

result! Lets be honest the boss was never going out with a boring

0-0!!”

Ferguson signaled he’s ready for a quieter life by placidly

watching his players rip West Brom apart and then showed none of

the usual anger at their capitulation.

But the scorers on this day will be long forgotten – it was all

about the manager in the opposition dugout.

Now a former manager.

A son of a ship-builder from Govan in Scotland and a top player

in his native country from 1957-74, Ferguson entered management

with East Stirlingshire in 1974. He moved to St. Mirren later that

year and was hired by Aberdeen in 1978, making his mark by breaking

the dominance of Rangers and Celtic.

After a brief taste of international soccer with Scotland at the

1986 World Cup, Ferguson was lured from Aberdeen to United in

November 1986.

Since then he has won 13 Premier League titles, the Champions

League twice, five FA Cups, four League Cups, the European Cup

Winners’ Cup, the UEFA Super Cup, the Club World Cup, the

Intercontinental Cup and 10 Community Shields.

Little wonder that even West Brom fans were buying the

commemorative scarves being sold by enterprising salesman outside

of the stadium.

Ferguson could see them from the team bus as it pulled into the

ground. In the stands were affectionate banners, including ”Thank

you dinosaur.”

Before kickoff, West Brom’s players formed a guard of honor for

the champions and were then joined by the United team to usher

Ferguson onto the pitch.

”What the West Brom fans did was a nice touch,” Van Persie

said, before also referring to the retiring Paul Scholes. ”Of

course, when you speak about players like Scholesy and managers

like Sir Alex, I think it’s right to do that (show respect). It

doesn’t always happen in football but today it did, and I’m glad

that it did.”

Just like in every one of his previous 1,499 matches, Ferguson

featured an academy graduate in his squad – a hallmark that has

helped to deliver such unprecedented success.

One of those, Scholes, came off the bench in the 69th minute to

make his 718th and final appearance for the club at which he had

spent his entire career.

It was a party atmosphere from the start, with red flares being

set off in the United end.

Ferguson, though, was the calmest United representative when

Shinji Kagawa headed his side in front after six minutes.

West Brom gifted United another inside three minutes, with Jonas

Olsson turning Antonio Valencia’s cross-shot past his own goal

goalkeeper, and Alexander Buttner grabbed a third in the 31st

minute.

Just when United looked like inflicting a humiliating result,

James Morrison pulled one back five minutes before halftime.

Substitute Romelu Lukaku reduced the deficit in the 50th before

Van Persie canceled it out three minutes later.

Ryan Giggs, who has featured in every one of United’s

title-winning teams, came off the bench to set up Hernandez to tap

into the net to make it 5-2.

A cruising United was too relaxed, and West Brom spoiled the

party with goals from Lukaku and Youssouf Mulumbu in the 81st.

It was Lukaku who bundled the ball into the net to complete his

hat trick and become the last player to score against a Ferguson

team.

When the end came, Ferguson shook hands with Clarke before being

ushered by Giggs to thank their visiting fans.

The home fans showed their appreciation, too. They got to

witness the end of an era.

Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris