Sir Alex Ferguson leaves as a legend. (Peter Powell / EPA)

It would have been a great surprise, had it come off. Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary coach of Manchester United, had planned to announce his retirement in his usual address to fans after the team’s final home game Sunday against Swansea.

But, when news leaked last week, he was forced to break his decision to end his 26-year career with the team a bit early. Still, it made for a memorable scene at Old Trafford on Sunday, as the 71-year-old coach was celebrated by his players and fans for a career that featured 13 English Premier League titles, five F.A. Cups and the evolution of Manchester United from northern England club to a global force with shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Man U was the second-highest valued team in the world, according to Forbes, trailing Real Madrid; Man U had held the top spot since 2004.

Manchester United fans rocked the red. (Jon Super / AP)

“I decided at Christmas,” Ferguson told Sky Sports of his decision to step down. “[Ferguson’s wife] Cathy’s sister died. She had lost her best friend and she has been isolated. For 47 years she has been the leader of the family. She has made a lot of sacrifices for me.'”

At the insistence of players, Ferguson hoisted the Premier League trophy. (Jon Super / AP)

Ferguson’s final match will be Sunday at West Bromwich Albion. Since his appointment in 1986, he has won 38 trophies.

“My retirement doesn’t mean the end of my life with the club,” he told the crowd at Old Trafford. “I will be able to enjoy watching them rather than suffer with them. The last-minute goals, the comebacks, even the defeats are part of this great football club and it has been an unbelievable experience for all of us.”

Will both Wayne Rooney and Sir Alex be departing? (Jon Super / AP)

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