It was a goal of such ruthless brilliance that with one swish of his left foot at 8.13pm on Monday night, Robin van Persie settled the argument once and for all for Manchester United, champions for the 20th time.
The best team in the league? Undoubtedly. The outstanding player of the season? It has to be Van Persie, having scored what will surely be the goal of the season on the way to his hat-trick last night, a strike of such breathtaking geometry that any team in the world would have been hard pushed to defend against it.
The league season is an examination of a club's credentials over the course of 38 games but sometimes that season is distilled in the space of a few seconds. Those few seconds were those that it took for Wayne Rooney's beautifully flighted ball from inside his own half to drop out of the air and over the shoulder of Van Persie - and then for him to drive it past Brad Guzan first time with that sublime left foot.
It takes a moment like that to jolt you into seeing the season with clarity. There have been other players, like Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, Sunday's behaviour excepted, who have contributed just as much to their own clubs' seasons but unlike Van Persie, neither of them will be going home with a league winners' medal on 19 May.
Holding his first post-match press conference of the league season last night, Ferguson recalled what Arsene Wenger had said to him in the summer about Van Persie. "Arsene said to me ‘He's a better player than you think', when we concluded the deal, and he was right. He has never disappointed us."
In the defining moment of the season it was the campaign's definitive player who made the difference. Van Persie had a period this season, largely last month, when the goals dried up, one that coincided, unfortunately for United, with their Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid. He is not perfect, but he has got pretty damn close at times.
Ferguson will not have it that a side that has won the league title with four games to play is not a great United team in comparison to some of their illustrious predecessors. Certainly that remains debatable although in the first half last night, this was a great United performance. And in Van Persie this United team have a player who compares with every great individual of the Ferguson era and beyond.
Van Persie could probably do without having to return to the Emirates on Sunday for the first time, on an occasion when his former Arsenal team-mates will presumably be expected to form a guard of honour for the new champions, another odd new tradition. The 24 goals Van Persie has scored in the league thus far are just one shy of being one for every million pounds United paid for him in the summer. Will No 25 arrive on Sunday?
As United's supporters welcomed the 38th trophy of Ferguson's reign, it was more bad news for Villa whose goal difference is now four worse than that of Wigan Athletic, the team three points behind them in 18th position. They were never in this game and against Sunderland on Monday at Villa Park, they dare not lose.
It shaped up to be a brutal experience for Paul Lambert's young team, vulnerable at the best of times but caught last night on one of those occasions when United resolutely refused to spare their opposition. It looked that way in the first two minutes when Van Persie scored the first and United poured forward against a Villa team that included three brought up at the club's academy and a further three signed from Football League clubs last summer.
The first goal was a masterpiece as well. There was Rooney's ball out to Antonio Valencia, perhaps marginally offside on the right wing. He cut in and passed back to Rafael Da Silva whose ball to the back post looked too lofted and slow but one touch from Ryan Giggs, also exceptional last night, turned it into a perfectly judged cut-back across the goal that Van Persie passed into the net.
At that point it looked bleak for Villa but then this night was not really about them. One minute after his first goal, Van Persie volleyed another chance over the bar. There was a header back from the Dutch striker to Giggs that Ron Vlaar managed to get a foot in to clear. Rafael hit the post. Ten minutes in and Villa were grateful just to be one down.
Villa's best chance of the game fell to Christian Benteke before United's second, but he snatched at it having done much to create the opening. If anything, Van Persie's second took the pain out of the game for Villa. How could anyone be expected to cope with that level of quality? One 40-yard ball from Rooney and the perfectly executed first time volley on the run settled it.
Having run half the length of the pitch to celebrate, Van Persie made a point of seeking out his provider, Rooney, and lifting him off the ground in thanks. He was making a point about something.
The hat-trick was completed in the 33rd minute and involved another assist from Giggs. There was a brilliant pass from Shinji Kagawa into the left channel which Giggs ran on to, carrying the ball into the area and trying to anticipate Van Persie's movement. The pass was slightly behind Van Persie but, no matter, he took the ball around Guzan and lifted it in off the post.
The first-half blitz slowed to a second half of casual dominance and celebration in the stands for United. Rooney found himself playing what looked like holding midfield for much of it before he left to a standing ovation on 72 minutes to be replaced by Danny Welbeck.
Kagawa might have scored a fourth on 77 minutes but instead he missed the target. As the final whistle approached the stands were spotted by thousands of flashes on thousands of cameras waiting to capture the moment of victory. For all the struggles with new challengers, these remain golden years at Old Trafford and for title No 20 there is a new hero too.
Goals: Manchester United: Van Persie 2, 13, 33.
Substitutions: Manchester United Welbeck (Rooney, 72). Aston Villa El Ahmadi (N’Zogbia, h-t), Clark (Bennett, 80).
Bookings: Manchester United Evra.
Man of the match Van Persie.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Manchester United 52%. Aston Villa
48%. Attempts on target: Manchester United 5. Aston Villa 5.
Referee A Taylor (Greater Manchester).
Attendance 75,591.Reuse content