Mathematically speaking, Manchester United has not yet won the English Premier League, but you wouldn’t know it from the celebrations at Old Trafford on Sunday.
After watching his team beat closest rival Chelsea to leave itself needing a single point from its final two matches to clinch the trophy, coach Sir Alex Ferguson embarked upon a triumphant march around his castle.
United’s Old Trafford stadium is the house that Fergie built, with this latest title – which will almost surely be rubber-stamped at Blackburn next week – the club’s 12th in 19 years and 19th overall. This time he soaked it in like never before, strutting along the sidelines before taking a joyous and theatrical bow in front of his worshipping followers.
Time and again the irascible 69-year-old has stared down the doubters and managed to conjure a result when one was most needed. Sunday was no different, as Chelsea came to town having chiseled away at a 15-point gap and given itself a shot at snatching the title.
Goals from Javier Hernandez and Nemanja Vidic secured this win despite a small, late Chelsea flurry which included a consolation goal from Frank Lampard, and yet another piece of silverware could be polished and prepared for entry into a fully stacked trophy cabinet.
For Ferguson, the time for restraint had long since passed. Of all his titles, this is one of his most satisfying, coming amid financial constraints and with an aging squad that many thought past its prime. After selling his then-best player Cristiano Ronaldo two years ago, he had to witness his new star, Wayne Rooney, perform miserably for most of the campaign.
Yet United still had too much guile for a financially laden but mentally insecure Chelsea team and a young Arsenal side that had hunger and skill but lacked resolve when it counted.
It was resolve that saw United through the past eight months, even when the soccer was not always pretty or convincing. This though, was coronation day, an afternoon when everything went right and Ferguson’s side sparkled just like a champion-elect should.
The manner of the first goal, and the personnel involved, was fitting. Park Ji-Sung is a player who has not always looked comfortable in a United shirt, but Ferguson stuck with him nevertheless, sensing a vitality and big-game persona from the quiet South Korean. Such faith was richly rewarded in the very first exchanges, as Park delivered a perfect pass for Hernandez, the bargain signing of the season, to guide into the net.
The game was 36 seconds old, and the tone was firmly set.
The second goal, courtesy of Vidic, was no surprise, and by the end the only shock was that the margin of victory stood at one. United sent repeated attacking bursts into Chelsea territory and there was little in the way of replay, with the London club looking like a punch-drunk old pug rather than a team playing for it all.
Ferguson knew this one was in the books early, and at the end he was off, striding down toward his family and then the fans who pray he will carry on forever.
The question of Ferguson’s future is one which only the man himself can answer, and he isn’t taking about it. However, United is on the brink of a spectacular Double, with the Champions League final against Barcelona coming up later this month.
Such a feat would be a sensational way to bow out. Ferguson would have nothing left to prove, but then again he hasn’t for years now and kept on going anyway.
He does this because he loves it, thrives on the challenge of adapting to the modern way. He does it better than anyone, so much so that United is arguably the most contemporary of teams despite being under the stewardship of a man pushing 70.
United’s success boils down to a winning mentality and a commitment to excellence. Those are principles that Ferguson, even in the dark days, never abandoned. His walk in the sun was richly deserved.