Beckham fails to defy the sands of time
PERHAPS it was down to the ageing legs around him that David Beckham, at times, resembled a player in the first flush of youth on his reunion with Manchester United.
It was an illusion, of course. Being the most sprightly of Milan's five thirty-somethings is hardly a badge of honour, but Beckham at least proved a point to Alex Ferguson, Fabio Capello and all those who now place his birth certificate ahead of his CV.
Put a dead ball at his feet and he is as dangerous as he has ever been. The rest is a different story.
Ferguson was only half-joking on Monday when the first question relating to Beckham at his pre-match press conference emerged from the blocks quicker than Usain Bolt.
"That was three seconds! -- hell!"
Part of Ferguson relishes the clash with former servants, the other sees it as an irritating sideshow. Roy Keane, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes have all had platitudes from the Scot when returning as managers, but he has limited his praise of Beckham to constant reminders of his experience. Or is that Fergie-speak for ageing legs?
Beckham remains the iconic figure he became during his eight years in Ferguson's first-team, however. Stick his name in Google and the search engine comes up with 17.6 million results.
That is still some way short of the 61.6 million that Barack Obama's name produces and the 20 million for John Terry. Yet compared to Wayne Rooney, English football's leading man, Beckham dwarfs the four million results generated by the United forward. At 34, he remains a box-office figure. Having been reduced to a substitute role for Milan since being described in the Italian media as a 'waxwork dummy' following his performance in the defeat against Inter last month, Beckham's return to the starting line-up for this game was largely due to Brazilian winger Mancini being cup-tied.
But Beckham's face dominated the San Siro's jumbo-screen during the warm-up, to which Milan entered the field to 'Eye of the Tiger', the theme from 'Rocky'.
The song could have been written for Beckham. Just like Rocky Balboa, he is the ageing star who just does not know when his time is up. But does he still have the ability to hurt his opponent like Sylvester Stallone's pugilist?
With Capello watching closely from the directors' box, the answer thrown up from his performance against United was yes -- in small doses.
The game was just three minutes old when Beckham confirmed what we we knew by whipping in a free-kick that led to panic in the United penalty area and Ronaldinho's opening goal.
With the tenacious Darren Fletcher chasing his tail, Beckham wisely conserved his energy, playing economical short passes to the closest red-and-black shirt. But whenever a free-kick came Milan's way, he became the quarterback again.
On 20 minutes, his in-swinging delivery forced Edwin van der Sar to punch clear in the six-yard box.
Having seen former United youth-team colleague Paul Scholes equalise on 36 minutes, Beckham was gifted the opportunity to restore Milan's lead with a direct free-kick from 30 yards moments before half-time but Van der Sar was not troubled by the former England captain's wayward effort.
Impressive as he may have been from set-pieces, Beckham cannot defy the sands of time and he is among a host of players in this Milan team whose best days are behind them.
Beckham still has spirit, though, and the pride of a true great who knows the curtain is beginning to fall.
He will have grinned as the United supporters chanted "Fergie, sign him up!" following his 72nd-minute substitution and there will be more of the same when he returns to his favourite stage at Old Trafford on March 10.
But it might be like watching Elvis at the Las Vegas Hilton -- it will be nothing more than a nostalgia trip. (© Daily Telegraph, London)