Madrid down United on veterans day
Nostalgia is one of the 21st century's growth industries. As the music business has realised, there is a kudos to seeing ageing greats perform one last time or, indeed, for the first time. Now football is catching on. The guiding principle is that speed is temporary and class permanent. Whatever their age, put them on the stage.
More than most, Manchester United and Real Madrid are clubs with reasons to celebrate their past. They have reasons to reminisce and a reunion of veteran crowd-pleasers drew a higher gate than the average Premier League game.
If legends – as both teams were billed – was a flattering description of Clayton Blackmore and Francisco Pavon, others merited that description. In many parts of the pitch, this was United's class of '99 against the men who made Real European champions three times in five seasons either side of the millennium.
While some footballers go in and out of fashion, however, others have an enduring appeal. Seven years since one of the great careers came to an undignified end with his World Cup final headbutt on Marco Materazzi, Zinedine Zidane illuminated Old Trafford with the casual brilliance of an old master. The veteran's vision has not deserted him. It is not just his eye for a pass, but his ability to weight it perfectly that stood out.
The Frenchman is, of course, ideally suited to such games, and not merely because the numbers of the folically challenged increases with the years. With the exception of a strangely hirsute Jesper Blomqvist, many participants unsurprisingly had less hair and larger waistlines than in their prime. Importantly for Zidane and others who enjoy time and space, pressing is an alien concept to the footballing pensioners. The pace of life is more relaxed in their dotage. Even the fixture list indicated as much: this completed a two-legged tie, with the games separated by a year. For the record, Real, who had prevailed 3-2 in the Bernabeu, completed a 5-3 aggregate triumph by emulating their modern-day side, who won 2-1 at Old Trafford in March.
After eliminating United from the Champions League, they have done a double. Admittedly, the scoreline was of secondary importance, not least because the proceeds of over £800,000 are going to the Manchester United Foundation, a charity working for the disadvantaged in the local community and beyond. The watching Sir Alex Ferguson was relaxed enough to join in a Mexican wave, along with the rapper Tinchy Stryder, part of the pre-match 'entertainment'; retirement really is allowing him to try things he hasn't done before.
Realising predictions from the mid-nineties, Ferguson's successor in the home dugout was Bryan Robson; his 100% losing record suggests he poses no threat to David Moyes. At least, spotting a replacement on the wrong side of a result, Ferguson was not tempted back to his technical area.
Unlike him, Paul Scholes' retirement only lasted three weeks before football's addictiveness compelled him to return to the midfield. This was a stroll for Scholes, his only problem being that some of his team-mates – the static Blackmore in particular – were too slow to reach the balls played ahead of them.
As Zidane's midfield allies included Claude Makelele and the ever-elegant Fernando Hierro, Real played with more assurance. They led when Fernando Morientes unleashed a shot that nestled in the bottom corner. The scorer was promptly booed; even in charity games, his undistinguished spell at Liverpool colours opinions.
The seniors from Spain would have been further ahead but for a display of athleticism to suggest Edwin van der Sar could still play professionally. Two years since his final official game, he made a string of saves. He denied his former team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy a hat-trick. The Dutch striker promptly swapped sides at the interval and, after maintaining his shoot-on-sight policy, levelled with a rising drive when a spritely Andy Cole found him. His old sidekick Dwight Yorke was less mobile but clipped the bar with a lob.
Instead, the Red Devils were condemned to defeat by a Red: Ruben de la Red, finishing with a deft chip after Morientes' reverse pass. Only 27, the match-winner is retired but sufficiently young that some would consider him a ringer.
A dozen years his senior, Ryan Giggs was rumoured to be putting in a guest appearance. Those suggestions proved incorrect but offered a hint to his future. There was a time when footballers who could no longer command a contract ran a pub. Now, stripped of the need to work again by huge wages, they can please their public in their afterlife by playing on. The future looks like the past.