Beckham show inspires Neville to roll back years

The years rolled back as he strolled down the touchline and took the applause he was so accustomed to seven years or so ago.

That was Gary Neville – and the pity for his old friend David Beckham was that there should be such a jolting reminder, five yards in front of his own dugout seat, of what might have been had he not sought out the celebrity life and become so estranged from a United manager who didn't even find a passing mention for him in his programme notes last night.

Old Trafford did not feel that way about the prodigal son. Such a roar went up when the words "No 32 – David Beckham" came from the stadium announcer that you could have been forgiven for thinking that he had never been away from the place. Wilf McGuinness was on the pitch before the match and the embrace Beckham found for him reminded you that it is, as he has always said, still his club.

There was a handshake, as he strode out, from one of the photographers who charted his growth from boy to man here. Even the mascot thrust out a big hand when the 34-year-old ran out past him for the second half and the sight of Beckham's mother, Sandra, and sister, Joanne, in the directors' box, wrapped in conversation with Kasper Schmeichel, also made it seem like home in other ways. When the first shouts of appreciation went up you saw the player's mother's face melt into a smile. No one, and least of all she, was precisely sure how Old Trafford would receive him.

But the man with the captain's armband running up the touchline provided the biting reminder of what it feels like to sit at home with your feet under the table and not just return there to taste the food for a last time – for the last time at Old Trafford this will surely be for Beckham.

Neville has not seemed like a man at one with this turf this season. There have been 16 starts but that number belies the occasions when he has looked yards off the pace of elite football. Goodison Park, three weeks ago, was a desperate place for him and the Manchester derbies in the Carling Cup have given the impression of an angry old man, raging against the dying of the light. Neville admitted a few weeks ago that he knew his time might be out come the end of the season.

Perhaps the sight of Beckham there was the incentive. Perhaps the knowledge that against Leonardo's Milan side he was operating among his own age group. But for 15 minutes or so, Neville morphed back to the Beckham era. A fierce, seventh-minute shot flew narrowly over Christian Abbiati's bar. Then came the cross of quite sublime accuracy and pace on to Wayne Rooney's forehead which set the course of the night.

There was something similar from Paul Scholes: a geometrically perfect pass through the Milan defence which Park Ji-sung slid on to for United's third. It meant that the game was an exhibition by the time the Stretford End clock blinked out the time 9.05 and Beckham – so long standing on the touchline waiting for a break in United's pressure that a coat had arrived to wrap him back up – made his arrival.

This was a moment of some theatre. In the directors' box, Sandra Beckham wiped away a tear. There was a winsome look, not a smile, when they sang "Fergie sign him on".

The last time Beckham arrived from the bench on a Champions League night was 23 April 2003, when after 63 minutes kicking his heels in the dugout he was released by Sir Alex Ferguson and almost turned around an impossible deficit against Real Madrid. He arrived after 64 minutes last night and within 10 minutes more was unleashing an impeccable, full volley which Edwin van der Sar clawed over the bar.

It was too late this time and United's fourth arrived before the end. Neville, incidentally, departed soon after Beckham ran on, with enough work done to at least ask questions of Fabio Capello. The odds are extremely long but Neville might just beat Beckham to a World Cup place, too.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
Researchers have said it could take only two questions to identify a problem with alcohol
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style