Gary Neville's hopes of a lucrative testimonial match against Rangers have been dashed because of police fears about violence and damage to the city, mirroring the scenes in Manchester at the Uefa Cup final two years ago.
Neville, who rejected the chance of a testimonial marking 10 years at Old Trafford eight years ago and preferred to wait until the end of his playing career, will receive one at the end of this season and the organising committee has recently approached Manchester United with the idea of a Rangers match.
But initial soundings have shown United that the levels of policing needed would make the event financially unviable, with security advisers also uneasy about the risk of trouble. At the time of Rangers' 2-0 defeat to Zenit St Petersburg in the 2008 Uefa Cup final, with an estimated 150,000 Scottish fans in Manchester, the failure of a giant screen in the city centre sparked a riot that saw shops and vehicles badly damaged. Gangs of fans had running battles with police, showering officers with bottles and bricks.
It remains unclear if the timing of Neville's testimonial is indicative of any plans to retire. While new one-year contracts have been given to Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes there has been nothing forthcoming for Neville. Sir Alex Ferguson pledged last weekend that the club captain would have a role at Old Trafford next season, but it was unclear whether he meant a playing or coaching position.
In the meantime, Steve Bruce is intent on ruining Ferguson's Sunday and insists the Scot would expect nothing less. United head for the Stadium of Light knowing they must beat Sunderland to stay in the title race if Chelsea have won at Liverpool earlier in the day.
Bruce, who worked closely with Ferguson during his Old Trafford playing days, knows exactly what he will be saying to his Sunderland players. "Win, that's all, like he normally does," said Bruce. "He has been there and worn the T-shirt. He has vast experience with it.
"But even when I go back years and years and years ago, he was still very, very calm around them. They will perform, because they have done now for years and they are used to performing. The result against Manchester City is typical of them now. If anyone was to get a result in the last minute, you would back United to do it.
"That stems from the manager himself. He has got this unbelievable desire to win which transmits to his team, and it has done now for 20-odd years. It's no fluke what he does. He works and, whatever you say about him, he has still got a wonderful humility about him that makes him a bit special."
Whatever the result of the lunch-time kick-off at Anfield, a United victory over Sunderland would ensure the title would only be decided on the season's last day. Bruce believes this penultimate Sunday would be even more dramatic if the two big games started at the same time. He said: "It's a huge weekend. It's unfortunate for the spectacle because I believe the two games should kick off together."Reuse content