Saved by sentimentality
And so they came in their thousands to pay tribute to the Red Devil who imagined the pastures were greener at Stamford Bridge. Not the absent Wayne Rooney, but Rio Ferdinand whose own flirtation with Chelsea now feels like ancient history.
A game that had been billed as a barometer of Manchester United fans' feelings towards Rooney, the match that would determine whether they would welcome him back into the fold, took place without him. It is a theme: Rooney is the man who wasn't there, never present on the pitch but ever present in the headlines.
Rooney was in the programme for Rio Ferdinand's testimonial, praising a long-term team-mate as "probably the most composed defender I've played with or against" but the No.10 position was occupied by Adnan Januzaj. Officially injured, he didn't join the sidelined Darren Fletcher, the rested Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic and the watching Boris Becker in the directors' box. For a constant in the headlines, Rooney is keeping a low profile.
In contrast, Ferdinand's ubiquity even extended to a role in Sevilla's opening goal as the habitual composure Rooney referred to rather deserted him. Vitolo accelerated in behind the labouring veteran to meet Diego Perotti's pass and finish deftly.
"We started like [it was] a testimonial," Ferdinand said. Sevilla, who didn't, set about embarrassing their hosts again. Marko Marin, a player Chelsea did sign and, presumably regretting it, loaned out, tapped in after Vitolo eluded the United defence again. David Moyes, for the second time in three minutes, glowered. Ferdinand, once again, looked all of his 34 years.
Had it not been for the inconsequential nature of the game, it would have been Ferdinand's most harrowing outing since he faced demolition by Gareth Bale in September. It amounted to an occasion when the accolades appeared a little misplaced. Sir Alex Ferguson described last season as the best of Ferdinand's 11 at Old Trafford and other tributes ranged from the glowing - "He's like the great Italian defenders: Baresi, Maldini and Costacurta," said Gary Neville - to the bizarre. "Rio's been like a dad to me," said Rafael da Silva, raising the question if Ferdinand has also been a father figure to Fabio or if this particular foster parent favoured one twin over the other.
More pertinently, United's difficult pre-season form continued. Moyes' first game at Old Trafford ended in defeat, just as his first match in charge, in Thailand, did. His side have played on three continents and only won twice before Wigan are his first official opponents on Sunday. Whether, beginning 40 hours before the Community Shield and with a much-weakened team, this constituted a pointer for events at Wembley is a moot point.
Yet no matter which compliments are paid publicly, too few can really have impressed Moyes over the past month. David de Gea prevented a heavier defeat, tipping a Marin shot on to the woodwork, Anderson attempted to bludgeon his way through the midfield but the only real bright spark was Januzaj.
The 18-year-old Belgian was the supplier when Angelo Henriquez should have scored and the provider when Antonio Valencia did, delivering a low cross after his fierce drive had been parried. At least United rallied themselves then; Wilfried Zaha came close to an equaliser but the 90th-minute goal came from Sevilla, Bryan Rabello clinching victory.
At least a crowd of around 44,000 generated plenty of money for the Rio Ferdinand Foundation. The man himself rarely looked majestic, to borrow Edwin van der Sar's description of a player who used to protect his goal, but he was substituted to a standing ovation and a deafening chorus of his name. His past transgressions have long been forgiven and forgotten but Rooney may not follow Rio's road to redemption.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Marko Marin - Looked a totally different player to the misfit who floundered at Chelsea. Scored one goal and came close to another. The lively Vitolo was another to catch the eye.
MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: That Ferdinand played for 81 minutes was a sign he won't start against Wigan whereas Vidic presumably will. The sight of Shinji Kagawa on the left flank, which prompted Jurgen Klopp to criticise Ferguson, perhaps suggested the Japanese will not play in his preferred position for Moyes either. Much as this was a lesser team, it should be a worry United were carved apart so easily and so often before the break. With new signings hard to secure and Rooney restless, this was been an awkward start for Moyes.
SEVILLA VERDICT: For a side who only finished ninth in La Liga, then lost two of their best players – Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo, who both found homes elsewhere in Manchester - and had played 24 hours earlier in the Europa League qualifying, they were terrific, allying speed with technical excellence, particularly in the first half. Understandably, however, they tired in the last 20 minutes.