A certain light went out of Manchester derbies when Gary Neville announced in February that he had played his last game for Sir Alex Ferguson.
The image of Carlos Tevez arriving on the touchline to taunt Neville after a goal last season will always be a symbol of the new-found competitiveness between the sides brought by City's new wealth. It was a response to the defender's suggestions that Ferguson had been no fool to sell the Argentine.
Neville, whose new roles as a Manchester United ambassador and Sky Sports summariser were confirmed yesterday, insisted that he would cross the street to shake his former teammate's hand and actually liked him, though he affirmed ahead of next weekend's FA Cup semi-final that while the Argentine was one of many greats at United, he is the footballing great at Eastlands.
"He is their best player," said Neville, who will receive a testimonial against Juventus at Old Trafford on Tuesday 24 May. "He's been their most important player for the last couple of years. Here he was among many great players at the time who could win you the match. At City they have other good players around him but without a shadow of doubt he has proved he is the best." It is a suspicion which has caused fear among those at City who yearn to break the 35-year wait for a trophy but who saw Tevez so subdued in the most recent Old Trafford derby.
Neville is far less antagonised by the Tevez "Welcome to Manchester" billboard than his manager. "You can talk a lot, you can put pictures up in city centres, you can suggest that Manchester City are going to be the new force, but the reality is that it will all come down to what happens on the pitch and the players who are playing."
The feeling within the dressing room about City is that United have faced such assailants before, he added. "We've seen it before – we've seen it before with Blackburn, we saw it with Leeds, we saw it with Chelsea, we see it now with City and Tottenham – there have been loads of clubs who have thrown money at it over the last 15 years. Some of them have been successful and some haven't. All I know is that United have remained successful throughout that period."
Neville was more indignant about Fabio Capello's failure to communicate to Rio Ferdinand the news that the England captaincy had gone to John Terry. "I think it was unfortunate; unnecessary," he said. "The manager has every right to decide who his captain should be but... it created a problem he did not need to create. That was strange because he is such an experienced manager. But sometimes strange things happen with England."
Neville will use his testimonial to support sustainable development projects – an area in which he is interested – and supporter initiatives in the UK and overseas. Ticket details are available through the United website.
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