Even until a couple of weeks ago, everything seemed normal in the world of football. Players awoke at the crack of dawn, made their way to the training ground and worked hard with their well-settled teammates and mangers. All seemed well; nothing could disturb the efficient peace of the realm.

But now, a couple of weeks later, the realm’s very foundations have been shaken by a string of unexpected retirements, which have left young players and fans alike stunned. The age of transition has begun; experienced wisdom will be replaced by fresh legs and young blood.

Here’s a look at those legends who have decided to hang up their boots, call it a day and waltz their way into the pages of history, sometime during these dark couple of weeks.

David Beckham:

In 1993, David Robert Joseph Beckham, found himself a major component of the group of youngsters, under manager Alex Ferguson, that later became affectionately known as ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’, following in the footsteps of Sir Matt Busby’s ‘Busby Babes’. The English international went on to make 265 first-team appearances for United, scoring an amazing 62 goals in his 10-year tenure with the club.

After an alleged fall-out with Fergie, Beckham left the familiar greens of Old Trafford for the fresh pastures of the Santiago Bernabeu and Real Madrid. In his 4 years with the Spanish giants, the showman made 116 appearances, scoring 13 goals, playing alongside the likes of Raul and Zinedine Zidane.

In January 2007, Beckham left Spain for a taste of the United States and Major League Soccer, having signed a contract with Los Angeles Galaxy.

I’m coming there not to be a superstar. I’m coming there to be part of the team, to work hard and to hopefully win things. With me, it’s about football. I’m coming there to make a difference. I’m coming there to play football … I’m not saying me coming over to the States is going to make soccer the biggest sport in America. That would be difficult to achieve. Baseball, basketball, American football, they’ve been around. But I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could make a difference.

– Beckham, on going to the US.

The Englishman went on to make 98 appearances for the American club, scoring a modest 18 goals, with a couple of intermittent loan spells away at AC Milan interrupting the tenure. After winning the MLS Championship, Beckham moved to Paris Saint-Germain, where he made 10 appearances and also won the Ligue 1 title.

On 16 May, 2013, the English stalwart announced his retirement from club football. As a pioneer of the dead-ball situation, a treat for the shutterbugs and an ambassador for the Beautiful Game, David Beckham will be sorely missed.

Paul Scholes:

The man affectionately nicknamed ‘Sat-nav’ for his ability to pick the right pass in any situation, Paul Scholes was another member of the famous and successful team known as ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’. The ‘Ginger Prince’ was the epitome of loyalty and his work-rate was unprecedented. The Englishman made an astounding 466 appearances for Manchester United, scoring 102 goals, between 1993 and 2011 before announcing his retirement on the last day of the 2011 season.

However, on 8th January 2012, he reversed his decision and made his comeback to the United first-team, due to the sheer lack of midfield players in the squad. The icon went on to make another 31 appearances, scoring another 5 goals for his boyhood club.

The legend arrived in the shadows, played in the shadows, conquered in the shadows and left in the shadows. His retirement is a huge loss to the Beautiful Game.

“My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder.”

– Zinedine Zidane, on Scholes.

“When we were in training, I used to do a lot of tricks which hardly any players at the club could do. Once I was showing my skills to Scholes. After I finished, Scholes took the ball and pointed to a tree which was about 50m from where we were standing. He said, I’m going to hit it in one shot. He kicked and hit the tree. He asked me to do the same; I kicked about 10 times, but still couldn’t hit it, with that accuracy. He smiled and left.”

– Cristiano Ronaldo, on Scholes.

Sir Alex Ferguson:

The man who promised to “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch” in 1989 was scoffed at and ridiculed by the late-20th century Scousers. The very same Merseysiders were forced to swallow their insults, acknowledge the achievements and pay their respects to the ‘Great Scot’ when the stalwart announced his retirement on 8th May, 2013, exactly 7 years after French legend Zinedine Zidane hung up his boots.

The Scot, in his 26 years at Manchester United, was the only constant in a world of variables; players came and went, but the Gaffer endured on. Many realized that a day would come when the likes of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs would retire. But Sir Alex Ferguson? Never. It was supposed to one of those ‘until death do us part’ deals. Alas, to the disappointment of the entire world of football, it wasn’t to be.

13 Barclays Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 10 FA Community Shields, 2 UEFA Champions League titles, 1 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, 1 UEFA Super Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup and 1 FIFA Club World Cup. Phew. Not a bad 26-and-a-half years, eh?

When the Gaffer spoke, people listened; when the Gaffer prowled the touch-line, officials and opponents cowered; when the Gaffer announced his retirement, everyone sobbed. He made the Impossible Dream possible, silenced his ‘Noisy Neighbors’, broke every record in existence and basically conquered the world.

His world famous hair-dryer treatment instilled fear in the most senior of players and inspired them to ‘go out there and get the job done’.

“At the end of this game, the European Cup will be only six feet away from you and you’ll not even able to touch it if we lose. And for many of you that will be the closest you will ever get. Don’t you dare come back in here without giving your all”.
– Alex Ferguson, during the 1999 European Cup Final.

He had a sense of humor too.

“They say he’s an intelligent man, right? Speaks five languages! I’ve got a 15-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who speaks five languages!”

– Alex Ferguson, on arch-rival Arsene Wenger.

“I am such a bloody talented guy. I might go into painting or something like that.”

– Alex Ferguson, on life after retirement.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement sent shockwaves through the world of football; within a couple of hours, his name was mentioned on Twitter an unprecedented 6 million times.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Football, bloody hell!”

– Alex Ferguson, after the 1999 Champions League final.

Ta-ra, Fergie, with a tear.

– Adit Ganguly