Paul Scholes the master will be sadly missed
The cause was a losing one, but it was fitting that Paul Scholes played his final 14 minutes for Manchester United in opposition to the planet's finest footballer and the world's best club side.
Scholes has been operating on diminishing returns this season, both in appearances and influence, but Lionel Messi and Barcelona represented the sort of elite company he deserved to keep at the conclusion of a wonderful career.
Xavi, almost as brilliant as Messi as Barcelona outclassed United in Saturday's Champions League final at Wembley, interrupted his elation to seek out Scholes at the final whistle and it was no surprise.
He once described Scholes as "a reference" - an indication of the respect in which the 36-year-old was held around the world, a reverence that arguably outstripped appreciation in his own country.
Sir Alex Ferguson, knowing defeat was inevitable, was almost certainly paying his own personal respects to Scholes by allowing him to bow out on club football's biggest stage before officially announcing his retirement.
There had been talk in recent years that "The Ginger Prince" might call time by playing out a season at his beloved Oldham Athletic. This was a non-starter because if there was any quality left in Scholes's game, and there still was, Ferguson was never going to allow anyone else to feel the benefit, however small.
And so this modest, understated man and magnificent footballer crosses the divide at Old Trafford, from player to coach, to pass on his knowledge to Manchester United's next generation. He may not use many words, but the young players should hang on every one of them.
It was typical that Scholes had already departed on a family holiday by the time his retirement was made official. Playing, and the honours that accompanied it in 676 games and 16 years as a United first-teamer, meant more to him than any tribute that came his way.
One personal memory that summed up Scholes came in Sapporo during the 2002 World Cup, when England prepared to play Argentina and he was making a rare public appearance at a press conference.
A huge contingent of Argentine journalists gathered at the front of the room and pushed one of their number to press Scholes with the question: "Who is your favourite footballer of all time?"
As they waited for what they expected as the inevitable coronation of their own icon and World Cup winner, Diego Maradona, Scholes shot back without hesitation: "Frankie Bunn." Cue utter bemusement.
With an irritated glance that questioned how they could not have heard of Bunn's stirring deeds, Scholes added: "Scored six goals in a League Cup tie for Oldham against Scarborough once, you know."
It was a moment that, in many respects, summed Scholes up. As comfortable in the footballing environment of Boundary Park as he was in a World Cup, but with a lot more to his personality than met the eye.
Scholes developed his game from striker, to goalscoring midfielder to all-round dictator of games for Manchester United and England. Ferguson would probably have loved to have somehow coaxed another six seasons out of him, but Scholes has judged the time to step aside is now.
He goes with a fanfare he will hate, no doubt preferring to disappear under the radar before reappearing in his new guise next season - but his achievements and ability must not allow that.
Sir Bobby Charlton ranked him among his favourite Manchester United players while Zinedine Zidane called him his "toughest opponent and the complete player".
Of course there was, as Arsene Wenger pointed out, a dark side to Scholes, in the shape of his wayward tackling, that sometimes scarred his career.
It was in evidence, perhaps with increasing frustration at his waning powers, as recently as the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Manchester City at Wembley when he was sent off for a reckless foul on Pablo Zabaleta.
But this can never overshadow the beauty of Scholes's game; his vision, range of passing and the ability to - as United's fans celebrated in a simple song - score goals. Goals of all shapes and sizes, long and close range. You name it - he scored them.
One glowing example of this rare talent was the 25-yard strike against Barcelona in the 2008 Champions League semi-final second leg at Old Trafford that sent United to Moscow to face Chelsea and allowed Scholes to fill the gap in his medal collection after he was suspended for the 1999 win against Bayern Munich in Barcelona.
Scholes was also perfectly at home when winning 66 England caps. His international career came to an unsatisfactory finish, badly misused and stuck out in unfamiliar territory on the left flank by Sven-Goran Eriksson in the searing heat of Portugal at Euro 2004, an experience that persuaded him to prematurely end his international career.
And yet his ability was so enduring that he almost made a return for the World Cup in South Africa last summer. England coach Fabio Capello, perhaps sensing the debacle about to unfold, attempted to persuade Scholes to come out of retirement - but left it too late for serious consideration.
Typically, part of Scholes's decision was based on his reluctance to take the place of any player who had helped England reach South Africa. On reflection, it was a tournament Scholes did well to miss. It was unlikely to have enhanced his reputation, such was the scale of England's collapse.
Scholes was not just an example on the field, he has been exemplary off it. No lurid headlines; indeed, no headlines at all unless they were football-related; a family man whose main priority, once his day's work was done at United's Carrington training centre, was the school run.
If he finds the time away from his new role, he might even dig out the cricket whites and revisit his short career with Middleton and Blackley, crashing leather with willow with the same perfect timing, precision and placement he has reserved for Manchester United for so long.
For Ferguson, Scholes's retirement presents a dilemma but one he is certain to have been prepared for. Ryan Giggs now stands alone from the famous class of 92 after Gary Neville's retirement earlier this season, and Ferguson has two midfield vacancies to fill after Owen Hargreaves lost his battle to rebuild his Old Trafford career after serious injury.
Scholes leaves a significant hole, and only players of the calibre of Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder and Tottenham's Luka Modric can come close to filling it.
For now, though, Ferguson is happy to celebrate the midfielder's career: "What more can I say about Paul Scholes that I haven't said before? We are going to miss a truly unbelievable player."
Sentiments that will be shared and echoed far beyond Old Trafford.