Gary Neville has revealed he was ‘devastated’ when David Beckham left Manchester United in 2003.
Beckham left United for Real Madrid under a cloud after his relationship broke down with manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Ferguson infamously inadvertently kicked a boot at Beckham’s head after an FA Cup defeat to Arsenal, and left him out of a crucial Champions League second leg against what turned out to be his new club.
Beckham’s exit was the beginning of the core of the Class of 92 finally breaking up with Nicky Butt and Phil Neville departing shortly after.
Neville has explained that his close bond with the superstar was not affected by his move to Spain, and revealed what Beckham told him on the pitch after his final Old Trafford appearance against Charlton.
“I remember David leaving,” Neville told Sky Sports.
“He whispered to me on the pitch at the end of a game and the newspapers lip-read it. I think his words were: ‘I think they want to sell me.’
“At the time, Real Madrid and Barcelona were in for him. I said to him: ‘Just sign a contract.’ I think he wanted to go and experience one of these teams; he always saw himself beyond Manchester. As much as he loved United and was absolutely obsessed with the club, he just always felt like he had an incredible vision with what he wanted to do with his life.
“It didn’t cause any friction in our friendship. Not at all. I never felt that at all. I thought that when he left it was probably for the best because the relationship was getting a bit fraught. Just generally you could see it was coming to an end. To this day, my view has been that it was good for both parties. But at the time I was devastated because it felt like the gang were breaking up.”
Beckham signed for United as a trainee in 1991 and was nurtured into the global phenomenon he became by academy coach Eric Harrison and Ferguson.
He won 6 Premier League titles, 2 FA Cups and, of course, the Champions League in his twelve year United career.
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