United defeated 2-1 by Juventus in 'Red Nev's' testimonial as Beckham, Rooney, Giggs, Scholes, Butt and Phil Neville all featured
At most Manchester United home games, a large proportion of the crowd leave early. That was not the case on Tuesday night as Old Trafford honoured Gary Neville for his service to the club.
Neville, 36, retired in February because he felt he could no longer compete at the highest level, and here he pulled on a United shirt for the final time as the Red Devils were beaten 2-1 by Italian giants Juventus in his testimonial.
“The most important thing is that the players don't get injured,” said Neville ahead of the match, in reference to the Champions League final against Barcelona on Saturday. Not to worry Garry – they didn't, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the chance to show their respect for 'Red Nev'.
The teams ran out to 'This is the One' by The Stone Roses, as they always do here, but with the twist of the band's lead singer Ian Brown singing in person on the pitch. Most agreed it was a vocal horror show, like a cat crying, but it no doubt added to the sense that this was an occasion of celebration.
In Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers; Sir Alex Ferguson fielded six players who grew up together in the youth ranks and enjoyed so much success in the first team. The hair may have thinned (or disappeared in Butt's case) and the brows may be a little more furrowed but, four nights before the Champions League final, it was fitting to give such a notable nod to the treble-winning class of 1999.
As the players took to the pitch in front of 42,000 fans, the crowd raised a mosaic that depicted Neville's face and the words 'is a Red'. This is the man who spent is whole career talking, playing and acting like a United fan living a dream. It is no surprise, then, that Neville will be donated the proceeds from ticket sales for the night to projects he feels will help United supporters.
In his 20-odd years at the club, Neville came to embody the commitment and mentality needed to succeed at United. Never a particularly gifted player by his own admission, he managed to establish himself as one of the greatest right-backs in the club's history by making the absolute most of his ability.
If Neville reminded us of his defensive astuteness with some alert interventions in the penalty area, Beckham also proved that he has the quality and passing vision to play in the Premier League next season. Neville will not have been upset nor surprised that the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for his best mate, who produced some sublime deliveries and looked in tip-top shape.
Red Nev | Neville is presented with a comemorate shield
It also said much about Neville's popularity within the dressing room that Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs insisted on starting the game, even though Ferguson would have been understandably wary of the consequences should one of them have picked up an injury ahead of the Champions League final.
Judging by the way Rooney charged around the pitch, you might have thought this was a cup final itself. The United striker simply doesn't know any other way and he gave the hosts the lead as he turned home from close range after good work from Giggs.
The triple substitution on the half-hour of Rooney, Scholes and Giggs for Bebe, Gabriel Obertan and Darron Gibson may have served as a reminder to some as to just how blessed United have been to see so many quality players over the years.
Bebe, who cost £7 million last summer, has spent most of his time at Old Trafford as a season-ticket holder in the directors box. He did little in his time on the pitch to shake the feeling that he will be remembered as a very expensive dud.
Unlike Neville, who looked like he had just run a marathon as he was substituted in the 84th minute, heartily embracing Beckham and Butt while the crowd took the opportunity to once again show their appreciation for his service to the club.
Juventus slightly dampened the party as Simone Pepe and Manuel Giandonato made sure the Italian giants won the game with two very impressive goals.
“The most important thing is we win on Saturday,” said Neville to a huge roar as he stood on the pitch after the game. This is a man who has always put the team and the club ahead of himself.