Gary Neville made an emotional return to the Old Trafford turf as his testimonial match revived fond memories of the Class of '92.
David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes - as well as Gary's younger brother Phil - all joined the former United captain on the park, and there was also a familiar face in the opposition ranks as Italy legend Alessandro Del Piero skippered the visitors Juventus. And while the Italians slightly pooped the party by winning 2-1, after Wayne Rooney had opened the scoring for the Reds, this was still a night to remember for Neville and the thousands of fans who turned out to salute him.
Great cheers – not to mention a female scream or two from South Stand – greeted every early touch from David Beckham, including a trademark flighted ball that sent his old team-mate and best man scurrying down the right flank. Gary Neville showed his recent return to the training pitch had paid off as he caught up with the pass, only to be ushered off the ball by Juventus left-back Paolo De Ceglie.
Gary’s brother Phil is still playing top-flight football of course, and it was the Everton skipper who laid on the first chance for Wayne Rooney in the 4th minute, pulling the ball back from the left for United’s number 10 to force Marco Storari’s first save. At the opposite end, Tomasz Kuszczak was almost caught out of position after trading passes with his defenders but the Pole recovered well to block a drive from Alberto Aquilani, who last faced United when languishing in Liverpool’s reserve team.
The Old Trafford faithful were merciful to Aquilani – or perhaps blissfully ignorant, given his low-key start on Merseyside; instead of jeering him, the United fans saved their voices for warm approval whenever Scholes, Giggs or Beckham turned on the exhibition stuff.
The volume went up a notch in the 18th minute when Rooney fired past Storari from six yards. The move that created it might have had England fans wondering what might have been – with former international colleagues Rooney, Owen and Scholes all involved and then the odd man out, Ryan Giggs, an ex-England schoolboy, sliding an appetising assist in from the left wing.
TV replays suggested Gary Neville was beginning to feel the pace on his big night, after his clearing header was