Almost as astonishing as the 70,000 crowd at Roy Keane's testimonial was the sight of Sir Alex Ferguson orchestrating the acclaim for the former Manchester United captain at his belated farewell to Old Trafford.
Resplendent in a light brown suit, the United manager led the guard of honour that welcomed Keane on to the pitch and paraded the man he regards as his finest acquisition around the centre-circle as the kindred spirits buried their hatchet at the end. It was a night of reconciliation but also, given Keane was there as an employee of Celtic, a night that demonstrated Ferguson's unrivalled authority to perfection.
He was a commanding influence and a revered icon and yet Keane, once Ferguson had measured his ageing contribution against his worth to the team in light of the now infamous criticism of his colleagues on MUTV, quickly joined the extensive group who have discovered that reputations and service count for little when you cross the Glaswegian who, within the confines of Manchester United at least, always emerges as the victor. To that collection of players, coaches, rival managers, broadcasting institutions and journalists, we can now add members of the medical profession.
As with Keane's abrupt departure from Ferguson's office in November, the exact nature of United's parting with Mike Stone, the club doctor who has been a fixture at the club since the treble-winning campaign of 1998-99, is open to conjecture. United are adamant it was not Wayne Rooney's rehabilitation from a broken metatarsal that was the reason for Stone's exit, a stance supported by those close to the England striker yesterday, but not in doubt are Ferguson's role in his removal and that, once again, the United manager has not allowed a challenge to his authority to pass unanswered.
Unprecedented success and longevity has afforded Ferguson the freedom to run United's football operation as he sees fit but they are not responsible for his dogmatic, single-minded approach; he has always been that way. The man who took St Mirren to an industrial tribunal over his one and only sacking in football (an act of defiance that ended in a rare defeat) and challenged JP McManus and John Magnier over the stud fees for Rock of Gibraltar (another defeat, but again outside Old Trafford) began to mark his territory at United the moment he arrived from Aberdeen in 1986, confronting the drinking culture he inherited and selling Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside, despite their talent and popularity. Gordon Strachan was ruthlessly disposed of when Ferguson decided his influence was in decline and despite Strachan returning to haunt United by guiding Leeds to the title in 1992, Ferguson's opinion of the midfielder never altered.
In comparison with those who Ferguson has ostracised since the title found its way to Old Trafford, however, those three were granted lengthy stays of execution. Concerns over the tactical indiscipline and strutting of Paul Ince came to a head with the 1995 FA Cup final defeat by Everton that persuaded the United manager to sell the midfielder to Internazionale.
When, following a trophy-less season and the departures of Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis, the Manchester Evening News ran a poll asking if Ferguson should be sacked, he cut the lines of communication with his local newspaper. The BBC met a similar fate in 2004 when it aired an investigation into dealings of his football-agent son Jason, while Jaap Stam was sold to Lazio within weeks of his book being published with allegations of being tapped-up by Ferguson while at PSV Eindhoven.
The sale of Stam, and the destabilising effect it had on the team, revealed that not all Ferguson culls are in the common interest. Likewise David Beckham and the lifestyle disputes and flying boots that precipitated his sale to Real Madrid in 2003, the last time United won the Premiership. Ruud van Nistelrooy cited the failure to replace Beckham as a principal reason for the club's early exit from last season's Champions' League and has since fallen out with Cristiano Ronaldo over the winger's tendency to hog the ball. Now it is the Dutchman's turn to be shown the exit.
"If footballers think they are above the manager's control there is only one word to be said to them," Ferguson wrote in his autobiography, "Goodbye". That philosophy applies not only to footballers, and it is rarely so polite.