There could be no greater tribute for the Manchester United Opus than to be presented to one of the World’s biggest living icons, former South African president Nelson Mandela.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United squad flew out to Johannesburg this week to present the Opus to the former president, in honour of his extraordinary project to raise awareness of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. The project, known as 46664, takes its name from the prisoner number assigned to Mandela whilst he was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 years.

To mark Nelson Mandela’s recent 88th birthday, Sir Alex also presented Mandela with a signed Manchester United shirt, announcing: ‘We have this shirt for you. We’d like to make you a Manchester United player and we’ve given you the shirt number 88.’

Mandela was suitably impressed with both gifts, particularly the Opus which, at 35kg packs a serious punch. To accompany the Opus, a signed giant still life Polaroid of Sir Alex, taken by the Opus team, was also presented for auction by the NMF to to raise funds to support the 46664 campaign work. For anyone thinking that footballers don’t care for the world outside their dressing room, think again. Manchester United, like the Opus, takes its role very seriously.