Giggs' party leaves Celtic celebrating

Manchester United's winger picked up £1m in his Old Trafford testimonial last night but the visitors took the honours with a 4-3 win
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The Independent Football

Celtic spoiled the party if not the pay-day for Ryan Giggs in what could be the last major testimonial to slip through the taxman's defences.

If there was the feeling of an era ending at Old Trafford last night, it was not because Giggs is necessarily nearing the tail end of his distinguished United career. It was more a matter of that implacable opponent, the Treasury, putting an end to tax-free £1m benefits for players who are already millionaires several times over.

If the Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn, has his way, only the first £100,000 will be tax free in future, with a 40 per-cent rate kicking in thereafter. In other numbers, that means that, if Giggs had started his Manchester United career a few months later, it could have cost him something like one third of a million pounds.

Mind you, there were few signs last night that the football public is disillusioned with showing such largesse to its most privileged entertainers. The sell-out crowd of almost 67,000 was the biggest yet for a testimonial in Britain, although it helps when Celtic, with their massive travelling support, are the invited guests.

If this was a preliminary sortie for the day, should it ever come, when Celtic and Rangers play in the Premiership, then the Premiership has been warned. After Giggs had come on last, accompanied by his young sister, to the sort of welcome his achievements at Old Trafford deserved, Celtic proved unco-operative visitors, scoring twice in the first three minutes through Chris Sutton and Neil Lennon.

The night was also notable for the home debuts of almost £50m worth of new United talent in Juan Sebastian Veron and Ruud van Nistelrooy. It was the Dutchman who brought United back into it, but Paul Lambert soon restored Celtic's two-goal lead. It was clear that we were not destined to see £1m worth of defending, although some of the individual clashes, particularly a couple involving David Beckham, were anything but friendly.

Veron, after an unhappy first half, lit up Old Trafford with a spectacular 30-yard goal midway through the second half, although Celtic again replied quickly through Lubomir Moravcik's free-kick.

The unadvertised and rapturously received arrival of Eric Cantona, fresh from the beach football circuit, added an extra benediction to the occasion and he contributed to an excellent second from Van Nistelrooy to set up a close finish.

Celtic had done their bit for the distressed footballers' fund, however, and that was their charity to Giggs ended. "The result didn't really matter,'' said Giggs, who had plenty of chances to show his familiar range of skills.

For Alex Ferguson, it was Celtic's extra fitness, stemming from the earlier start to the Scottish season, that made the difference, although he could be especially pleased with the display of Van Nistelrooy. "Once we get used to his movement around the box he'll be a massive asset,'' he said.