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.

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum