Beckham's career blooming with a little help from Milan fitness 'lab'
As David Beckham emerged after a massage and an hour of pilates on his last day at the renowned Milanello 'laboratory,' he looked like a man who had just spent five months on a health farm rather than undergoing the most thorough training programme of his life.
Tanned, lean and in perhaps the best physical condition of his career, he would again keep World Cup-winners Ronaldinho and Gennaro Gattuso on the bench for the final match of the Serie A season before joining up with England and winning his 111th cap in Saturday's 4-0 win against Kazakhstan.
Tonight, against Andorra, he is expected to make his first competitive international start for two years. With Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard, he will also be one of just three players to have featured in each of the seven World Cup qualifiers.
So how has he done it? How has Beckham gone from international outcast almost three years ago to such an integral part of Fabio Capello's emerging squad?
The seed for this latest and most unlikely Beckham revival was sown during two days spent at AC Milan's Milanello training base the weekend before Christmas with the club's medical director Jean-Pierre Meersseman, a Belgian kinesiologist.
Beckham was taken through a series of tests and, while Meersseman concluded that the 34 year-old had the natural fitness to emulate Paolo Maldini by playing into his forties, he wanted to address three specific issues.
Beckham's aerobic capacity was considered to be one of his main assets, but improvable, while a special programme to strengthen his upper legs was also recommended.
However, Milan's attention to detail was most underlined by the requirement that Beckham should wear a small support in his mouth until some dental work was completed to fill a tiny gap in a tooth. It was felt that this could be affecting his balance and, potentially, even his fitness.
An individual training schedule was also formulated. For Beckham, a typical day in Milan involved resting in his hotel until around 11.0am before driving himself to Milanello some three hours away before full training at 3.0pm. That time was used having lunch with his team-mates, an hour of Pilates, followed by training and then a combination of massages, ice-baths and Turkish baths.
Within weeks, his body fat had been reduced from 13.7pc to its lowest-ever figure of 8.5pc and he has thrived amid such a disciplined regime. "I've never wanted to stay at a club and work for so many hours as AC Milan," he said.
Upon arriving at Milanello, it is easy to understand why. Nestled 50km north of Milan in woodland near Lake Como, the 160,000-square-metre setting is idyllic, although the sense of history and achievement is underlined by the AC Milan logo at the entrance above a picture of seven European Cups.
Just past reception, there is a bar with pool tables and televisions where the players can socialise. Behind that is the entrance to a huge gymnasium, the Milan 'Lab', six perfectly manicured pitches and the so-called 'cage', an area enclosed by walls in which play must be continuous. There is even a glass 'mind room' for relaxation.
Unsurprisingly, Beckham intends to return ahead of next year's World Cup with Leonardo, the new Milan manager, having already indicated that the midfielder is part of his plans.
"Being at Milan doesn't guarantee me an England place," said Beckham. "But form-wise and fitness wise, it's taken me to another level. When my fitness is at a high level, I can perform." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
England v Andorra, Live ITV 1, kick-off 8.15