I’m terribly sorry if the quote comes across as very inappropriate but “It never hits you till it (casket) goes down” was how it hit that last Sunday, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last match at Old Trafford as Manchester United manager, after 27 years at the helm.
The stadium was red throughout, players from both sides minus Judas-tendencies gave the 71 year old a guard of honour and appropriately, goals in each half from Javier Hernandez and Rio Ferdinand’s first in five years ensured the wily Scotsman’s Old Trafford reign ended on a high… complete with the league title presentation that followed the match.
Ferguson, who before the match came out of the tunnel chewing on a gum after greeting members of the youth team, acknowledged the crowd for the years, implored them to support “the new manager” as they’ve done him, praised the team for the league title and convincing manner it was won, honoured Paul Scholes who (finally… for the second time) retired and… didn’t hug or spend more than a moment with Wayne Rooney upon the latter’s turn to receive his championship medal.
The cold treatment resonated around the stadium whose spectators neither booed nor more importantly cheered the 27 year old that handed in a transfer request last week right after Fergie announced he’d retire end of this season.
Indeed Rooney’s timing of his request couldn’t be more off and considering that, unlike the first time when he tried forcing the club’s hands with a transfer request years ago, Rooney no longer is arguably United’s most important player. Would be interesting if he joined Arsenal but the French capital seems a more likely destination at the moment in which all are just rumours.
Word also is that Radamel Falcao is potentially going to play in France next season for principality club AS Monaco, which only returned to the Ligue 1 but is owned by yet another Russian billionaire who, coupled with the (French Football Federation challenged) tax exempt the club enjoys from being based at Monte Carlo, is bent on spending the club’s way to the echelons as the Qataris at Paris St. Germain are doing.
The spending at the French capital yielded some fruit on Sunday night when a lone Jeremy Menez goal early in the second half gave PSG the win it needed at third placed Olympique Lyon to claim its first league title in 19 years and third in its young, 41 year history.
Whether it marks the start of a dominant period; similar to that of Lyon in the last decade, for PSG predicted by many when the money came to town remains to be seen, especially with the fact that PSG’s win makes it a sixth consecutive season a different club has won the Ligue 1 (Lyon in ’08, Bordeaux in ’09, Marseille in ’10, Lille in ’11 and Montpellier’s first ever last season).
All that without mentioning Monaco’s coming to the big boys circle, a coming which would pretty much be stamped with Falcao’s arrival, confirmation of which is reportedly being held back till after Atletico Madrid’s Copa Del Rey final match against Real Madrid which holds on Friday at the Bernabeu.
That match would be fundamental to both Madrid clubs’ season after a disappointing 1-1 draw at Espanyol by Real confirmed Espanyol’s city rivals Barcelona as La Liga champions on Saturday, only for Barça to come from a Falcao goal down to claim a 2-1 win at Atletico on Sunday, rubbing it in on the clubs from the Spanish capital.
Though they may have become much less glamorous than their Spanish capital club counterparts, the Italian capital clubs had contrasting fortunes over the weekend, with Roma managing an eventful goalless draw at AC Milan in a match that saw Francesco Totti get sent off and Mario Balotelli get racially abused by Roma fans; earning the Giallorossi a £42,000 fine.
Lazio meanwhile fared better in getting a third win on the bounce at home to Sampdoria earlier on Sunday. And with both sides to face off for the Coppa Italia in June, sixth placed Lazio went two points clear of Roma with a game to go, but remain two points behind Udinese that occupies the last Europa League spot in fifth place after a 2-1 win over Atalanta.
Further up the table, Napoli sealed second spot and group stage qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League with a 2-1 win over relegated Siena while Fiorentina closed the gap on third placed Milan to two points with a lone goal win over Palermo, a result that sent Palermo down to Serie B while Fiorentina and Milan’s fight for the last Champions League spot will be settled on the final day this weekend.
In England, Tottenham Hotspur occupy that spot thanks to a comeback 2-1 win at Stoke City, which put them three points behind Chelsea that guaranteed a top four finish with same result as Spurs, earned through second half goals midfielder Frank Lampard who as a result became the club’s top scorer of all time with 203 goals.
Chelsea now lead north London rivals Arsenal by four points, though the Gunners can reduce that gap to a point in Tuesday night’s crunch match at home to Wigan Athletic. The Latics visit the Emirates desperately needing a win to keep fading hopes of sinking with the relegation ship alive.
And they go into the match on a skyhigh following a not so shocking 1-0 win over Manchester City to win the FA Cup on Saturday via a 91st minute Watson header. That result inevitably led to the sacking of Roberto Mancini who was relieved on Monday night from his job there. Fair? Arguably, yes.
Whatever the case is, Mancini’s availability adds to an increasing number of high profile managers who will be available for appointments ahead of next season and hence, makes the ‘manager transfer market’ far more interesting to follow than that of the players… moreso after PSG blocked Real Madrid from approaching Carlo Ancelotti to replace Jose Mourinho.
Maybe Los Blancos will turn their focus on Mancini now, or interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez. Certainly not Arsene Wenger whose Arsenal side meanwhile also desperately need a win against Wigan to get back into the top four and keep the chances of qualification to next season’s Champions League entirely in their hands.
Back home, it’s still early days but results from match-day 11 fixtures played over the weekend has seen competition at the top of the Nigeria Professional Football League become intense, with the top 10 clubs separated by just three points.
Kano Pillars remain top of the log with 19 points from 10 matches, despite a crushing 3-0 loss against a ‘motivated’ Enyimba side whose players were last week put on half pay following a string of poor results.
Rangers and Sunshine Stars failed to take advantage of the reigning champions loss at Aba, with Rangers held to a 1-1 draw by fifth placed Bayelsa United in Enugu while Sunshine drew goalless at home to third from bottom ABS of Ilorin.
Ilorin’s bigger club Kwara United recorded a 2-0 win at home to El Kanemi Warriors to rise to fourth on the league table with 18 points, behind Rangers and Sunshine respectively on goal difference while Shooting Stars of Ibadan dropped to ninth with 16 points following a goalless draw at Port Harcourt against Sharks.
Heartland got a 2-1 win at home to Akwa United and is now seventh with 16 points, a point behind Bayelsa United and Nembe City that both occupy fifth spot due to their identical record so far, while Wikki Tourists of Bauchi remain bottom of the league with nine points despite a 1-1 draw at Nasarawa United.
Rounding up, Serena Williams claimed her 50th singles title in tennis after beating world number two Maria Sharapova to win the Mutua Madrid Open barely a fortnight to the French Open Grand Slam in Paris.
While winning that, older sister Venus Williams continued to show signs of “maybe it’s time I do a Fergie” at the Rome Masters as she was beaten in the opening round by Laura Robson.
In the men’s section of the Madrid Open, Rafael Nadal overcame Swiss man Stanislas Wawrinka for his fifth title in seven tournaments since returning from injury, losing in the final of the other two and putting him in the best form possible ahead of his favourite grand slam on the calendar.
And in Formula 1, another Spaniard claimed victory as Fernando Alonso of Ferrari won the Spanish grand prix in his hometown Barcelona ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen amd Ferrari mate Felipe Massa, while world champion Sebastien Vettel could only finish in fourth ahead of his RedBull mate Mark Webber.
Vettel however still leads the drivers’ championship with 89 points, though Raikkonen is now just four points behind in second place while Alonso managed to cut Vettel’s lead on him to 17 points.
That’s the bit from here. Would be very interesting to see if Arsenal confine Wigan to relegation or Wigan seriously dent Arsenal’s Champions League ambitions in Tuesday night’s highlight match.
Also in Tuesday night, a sulking Manchester City visit Reading while on Wednesday Chelsea will look to win a European cup in successive seasons when they play a Benfica side smarting from a stoppage time 2-1 loss at archrivals FC Porto in the Europa League final, a loss that put Porto a point ahead of Benfica atop the league with a game to play. Painful.
Anyway, here’s to an Arsenal win on Tuesday (a loss would definitely jolt Wenger et al to life but… ), a Benfica win (just because… ) and a productive week to you wherever you are.