If reports are to be believed, Rio Ferdinand’s first-class Manchester United career met an utterly classless end in the tunnels of Southampton’s St Mary’s stadium.
Glazer family’s stooge, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, was the one dispatched to tell the veteran centre-back that his contract would not be renewed this summer. With one exchange, more than a decade of outstanding service came to an end.
Since crossing the Pennines from bitter rivals Leeds United for £30 million (Dh186.7m) after a stellar World Cup 2002 with England, Ferdinand helped the club to six Premier League titles, two League Cups and one Champions League.
However, his displays this year have not been befitting of a man of his status. He has resembled a vintage Rolls Royce with too many kilometres on the clock, reduced to a tired old banger as strikers have profited from his reduced speed and flexibility.
History should not be re-written to centre on the travails of the last season as Ferdinand’s physical attributes declined, and a less-than-harmonious relationship with doomed former manager David Moyes emerged.
At his peak he was blessed with pace rarely seen in centre-backs, but his soothsayer’s mind meant he seldom had to use it.
As late as 2012-13 he excelled as United stormed to the Premier League title, being rightly voted into the all-star selection. This long-lasting excellence was honed in the same West Ham academy that produced England’s effortless World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore, his grace on the pitch being further boosted by teenage ballet lessons.
These silky attributes contrasted perfectly with the gritty Nemanja Vidic. The Serbian often received the lion’s share of the plaudits, as his thunderous challenges and iron will provided eye-catching highlights.
But the brains of a partnership that began to blossom in 2006-07 was Ferdinand. An exquisite goal against Liverpool in that campaign lives long in the memory, as well as two titanic performances to keep Lionel Messi’s Barcelona scoreless on the way to the 2008 Champions League trophy.
A long-standing back injury saw him begin to creak, an issue that made his return to prominence all the more remarkable.
Unfortunately, Ferdinand is unlikely to get the credit he deserves. A missed drugs test saw him banned for Euro 2004, with many United supporters never forgiving him for being pictured with Machiavellian Chelsea suit Peter Kenyon during delicate contract negotiations a year later.
Such a bitter viewpoint does no service to a true Red Devils legend. The exits of Ferdinand, Vidic and, possibly, Patrice Evra, leave gaping holes in defence.
The £27m (Dh166.8m) pursuit of Southampton’s prodigious leftback Luke Shaw must be replicated elsewhere if United are going to have the base to improve on their desperate seventh-place finish.
In 2002, some critics questioned the worth of spending so much on Ferdinand. If Shaw’s talent is anywhere near as enduring, he will prove to be cheap.