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Rooney's nod to greatness silences Beckham hype

In the end all the hype, all the hooplah which surrounded David Beckham's return to Old Trafford was just that. Style, not substance. How often has that been the case in the career of the most famous footballer on earth?

Don't answer. Far too many occasions to list here on a night on which Manchester United progressed clinically to the last eight of the Champions League with a 4-0 victory (7-2 on aggregate) over AC Milan.

Beckham had the style. No doubt about that, even if he started from the substitutes' bench. It was his face the cameras sought out. His hand everyone wanted to shake -- and he even endeared himself to the Old Trafford fans at the end by exiting the stage with a green and gold scarf around his neck.

But football is a game of substance. Always has been. Always will be. And that particular quality right now is possessed in bucketfuls by United and in particular by Wayne Rooney.

Rooney was the pivot at the tip of United's attack around which all their best work developed. That is substance.

Rooney was the epitome of industry in a United side which never has less graft than guile. More substance.

And Rooney scored his seventh headed goal on the trot after 13 minutes and his 30th goal of an extraordinary season within a minute of the interval. Now that really is substance. Actually that is style too. The way Rooney is playing right now anything appears possible for United this season.

Confidence has a habit of rubbing off on those in touching distance and Antonio Valencia, Park Ji-sung, Darren Fletcher and Nani all seemed to take their lead from the example of English football's brightest talent.

It made this the most routine of European affairs, although it should not be forgotten that this was the first time in five meetings United had beaten AC Milan. So routine that the crowd amused themselves by sporadically singing 'There's only one David Beckham' and 'Fergie, Fergie sign him up' as the goals, the third notched by Park and the fourth headed home by Fletcher, went in in the second half.

Not that we should belittle Beckham's homecoming. It is in vogue to treat players returning to former clubs as traitors. Howls, whistles and worse. Beckham's return, amid another stirring green-and-gold protest against United's owners, could not have been warmer when he came on after 63 minutes.

At which point Milan only needed five goals to win! Even Rooney would have struggled with that task.

In truth, Beckham made little impact, but for a couple of trademark crosses and one stinging volley which was tipped over the bar by Edwin van der Sar. Yet this was still a night to remember his yesteryears.