LONDON — With Champions League qualification the only major issue still to be decided, focus on the final day of the English Premier League football season tomorrow will fall on the characters bidding goodbye to English football.
It is certain to be a momentous day at The Hawthorns, where Alex Ferguson will bow out after a record-breaking 26-year spell as Manchester United manager, while veteran midfielder Paul Scholes is also expected to play his final game for the club.
Ferguson heralded the end of an era when he announced his retirement last week and was given a rapturous send-off at Old Trafford last Sunday when United beat Swansea City 2-1 in his final home game.
Sunday’s trip to West Bromwich Albion will be Ferguson’s 1 500th match as United manager, but the 71-year-old Scot has warned his players not to be distracted by the emotion of the occasion.
Speaking at the club’s end-of-season awards party, he said: “We need to win the game on Sunday. We won the last home game and I don’t want to lose my last game, that’s for sure.”
United received the Premier League trophy after beating Swansea and with West Brom already certain to finish no lower than ninth, there is little riding on the match, but Ferguson’s opposite number, Steve Clarke, wants his side to end the campaign with a flourish.
“We’re not there for a party on Sunday,” he said.
“Our party will be with our supporters at the end of the game when the players get the chance to thank the fans and the fans get the chance to thank the players for the season. That’s the only party we’re interested in and we’ll do what we can to finish on a high.”
Ferguson’s successor-in-waiting, David Moyes, will end his 11-year association with Everton at Chelsea, who on Wednesday claimed a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Benfica in the final of the Europa League.
Moyes, who will take over from Ferguson on a six-year contract on July 1, said farewell to Goodison Park after last weekend’s 2-0 defeat of West Ham United and he has thanked the club’s fans for their reaction.
“There are very few managers who have the opportunity to be cheered off in your last game as manager,” he told students at Cambridge University during a speech earlier this week.
“I have to thank everybody at Everton and the supporters for that – it showed real class. The atmosphere was incredible. I didn’t expect it.
“I have one more game to go. If we win then it will be our highest points total during my time there. Who knows? I may be back one day.”
The trip to Stamford Bridge will also mark Everton captain Phil Neville’s last game for the club, while another United old boy, Michael Owen, will hope to feature in Stoke City’s game at Southampton after announcing that he, too, will retire at the end of the season.
Liverpool’s fans, meanwhile, are preparing to say goodbye to long-serving defender Jamie Carragher, who is set to make his 737th and final appearance at home to Queens Park Rangers before taking up a position as a television pundit next season.
The 35-year-old said his recent run in the side had merely reinforced his belief that he was hanging up his boots at the right time.
“It’s made me go the other way, to be honest. It’s made me think it is the right time,” he said.
“It’s nice that I’m in the side and people are saying I’m doing well and why not stay for another year? It’s better than them saying you should have gone a year ago.”