Ferguson revels as history beckons
Sir Alex Ferguson walked towards the welcoming arms of the Stretford End and into another warm embrace with history when he stopped and bowed flamboyantly twice in front of his followers.
Old Trafford was a wall of sound and celebration after a Manchester United victory of such importance over Chelsea that Ferguson allowed himself the rare grand gesture even before the formalities are complete.
United only need to avoid defeat in one of their last two matches at Blackburn Rovers and at home to Blackpool - assuming Chelsea win both of theirs - to seal a record 19th title and confirm their status as the domestic game's most successful club.
The statistic is heavily weighted with significance. United's inevitable Premier League triumph edges them ahead of Liverpool and brings the day The Kop thought they would never see when they celebrated their last title win on 28 April 1990.
And Ferguson was entitled to let his guard down at his moment of personal elation because when United put the finishing touches to this triumph, it will arguably belong to him even more than his players.
Ferguson insisted United would not do a Devon Loch, the Queen Mother's horse that went into folklore after inexplicably collapsing with the winning post in sight in the 1956 Grand National, and throw away a landmark moment that is within their grasp.
"My dad backed that horse, you know," said Ferguson before dismissing the possibility of football imitating racing at the conclusion of this unpredictable Premier League season.
As a lover of the turf, Ferguson has shown a sure appreciation of the subtleties of how to hit the front and stay there, how to guide his charges through heavy going and deal with the stresses when the final furlong reveals its unique pressures.
Ferguson saluted the Old Trafford faithful after Sunday's key win. Photo: Getty
And as United suddenly felt Chelsea on their shoulders and this game was transformed into a potential title decider, he also got them in the mood to make the fast start that settled arguments even before they had begun at Old Trafford.
United may have been mixed on their travels this season, but the title has been won at Old Trafford, where only two points have been lost, and the punishment inflicted on shell-shocked Chelsea in a devastating opening 20-minute burst was decisive.
Chelsea could have taken control of the title pursuit with only two games left with victory - they were never even allowed to let the notion cross their minds, such was the force of the gust that blew them off course.
Ferguson will go about attempting to address the discrepancy in United's European record compared to his great rivals from Anfield in the Champions League final against Barcelona later this month, but for now another title is the main priority.
An expanding school of thought suggests Ferguson will complete his finest managerial hour if he guides United to the title and the Champions League, although others make a case for his best work coming even before he arrived at Old Trafford when he unseated the "Old Firm" in Scotland at Aberdeen and added a European Cup Winners' Cup win against Real Madrid for good measure.
There is no doubt, however, that his marshalling of a United squad that was functional for large parts of the season and does not rank among the greatest under his control has been a masterclass in management.
Ferguson's abrasive and confrontational style may earn him enemies outside Old Trafford and among opposing supporters, but even as he approaches 70 he has proved once more that he is the best manager in the Premier League in charge of the best team in the Premier League.
And for the man who famously made it his stated intention to "knock Liverpool off their perch", the latest chapter in his Old Trafford story will move him even close to mission accomplished.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez may have gone but the Ferguson spirit lives on in those left behind and it has carried United to the title this season.
He has dragged United with him through the campaign, manouevring and controlling a squad that will need an expensive summer refit even if they claim those two major prizes.
Ferguson must address the replacement of retiring goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and the ageing Paul Scholes as well as adding greater quality to his squad to ensure continued success.
And yet, for all the valid questions raised about United's quality and unfavourable comparisons with teams of the past, here we are again. Ready to add another title, and possibly the Champions League, to the roll of honour.
Ferguson shows no signs of going quietly, revealing something of his relish for life at Old Trafford in his programme notes as he said: "Being manager of Manchester United is one of the great privileges of my life and career and I have had that luxury for nearly 25 years.
"I have to say it doesn't always seem like a luxury as we run the gamut of emotions, winning and losing, the drama and suspense, the low points. These things never change and sometimes we go to the wire."
This title race will not go to the wire after the deserved win against Chelsea, thanks in large part to Ferguson's handiwork in the transfer market and two contrasting talents and characters.
Javier Hernandez is threatening to become one of the Scot's great deals, virtually stolen from Chivas de Guadalajara for what now seems the laughable sum of £6m.
He set United on the way in 36 seconds against Chelsea with a calm finish as he ran on to a pass from the man whose metronomic tone made life so uncomfortable for Carlo Ancelotti's fading Chelsea, Ji-Sung Park, to score the 20th goal of his debut season in England.
Hernandez combines the predatory instincts of an Old Trafford predecessor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the natural movement of a Gary Lineker. All for a small fee.
Park was once again trusted by Ferguson to deliver in the big game and he did it spectacularly with one of his finest performances. The South Korean ran Frank Lampard and Michael Essien into the ground with his tireless, energetic approach and gave Branislav Ivanovic a harrowing afternoon.
Lampard's scrambled goal gave rise to the prospect of Chelsea salvaging a point, but United were always in control and Howard Webb's final whistle was the signal for the party to start, albeit unofficially.
Sir Bobby Charlton raised his arms to the skies in the directors' box, chief executive David Gill was wreathed in smiles, Edwin van der Sar and captain Vidic gathered their team-mates around them in exultation and Old Trafford celebrated as if the job was done, which it surely is.
And away to their left the man who is on the brink of rewriting domestic football history and claiming his 12th Premier League title was taking his bow as he builds another momument to his managerial acumen.