LONDON • In the 26th minute of his 717th Chelsea match, John Terry's number was finally up.
A previously frenetic home game against Sunderland came to a standstill. Handshakes were exchanged with the visiting team and the Chelsea players embraced their captain in turn and formed a ceremonial guard of honour.
Neil Swarbrick, the referee, tucked the match ball under his arm and joined the applause.
As Terry reached the touchline, there was a lingering hug with his protege, Gary Cahill, and an exchange of the armband that felt laden with symbolism.
And with that, one of English football's most monolithic and controversial figures passed into history.
Bu, even in his departure, Terry, 36, was a polarising figure.
To some, his choreographed goodbye was a richly deserved bit of pageantry for a player who has served with distinction for 22 years. To others, it was a mawkish display, bearing echoes of the egotism so mercilessly parodied in the thousand memes launched by Terry's infamous full-kit gatecrashing of the 2012 Champions League final.
The impression that the whole match had been subjugated to an ego-trip for a departing legend was reinforced by the revelation that the stunt was cooked up in advance with the collusion of Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and, unpalatably to some, Sunderland manager David Moyes.
Moyes admitted that Sunderland deliberately kicked the ball out of play in the 26th minute so that Terry could enjoy a ceremonial farewell substitution at Stamford Bridge.
"It was Diego Costa that actually asked Jordan (Pickford, the Sunderland goalkeeper) to kick the ball out," he said.
Terry had asked before the match to be substituted in the minute that corresponded with his shirt number - 26.
The Football Association declined to respond when asked whether it would conduct a formal investigation, but the stunt could be viewed as a breach of its policy on match-fixing, which states: "Fixing is arranging in advance the result or conduct of a match or competition, or any event within a match or competition."
Some bookmakers offer markets on when throw-ins will be awarded during games. There is no suggestion that there was any attempt to fix the match.
Moyes justified the pre-ordained farewell by saying the player had "deserved a great send-off".
"We knew it was coming, and we agreed to put the ball out," said Moyes.
Terry said that the substitution had been his idea, with the permission of Conte. "I kind of negotiated with the manager to play 26 minutes and come off," he told Sky Sports.
The Premier League did not comment, but it is thought that it does not consider the incident to have compromised the competition's integrity as Sunderland were already relegated and Chelsea had sewn up the title.
THE TIMES, LONDON