Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United v AC Milan: Beckham brought the style but Rooney showed the substance

By Frank Malley

In the end all the hype surrounding 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.

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 their former clubs as traitors. Howls and whistles and worse.

Beckham's return, amid another stirring green-and-gold protest against United's owners, could not have been warmer.

A huge roar as his number 32 was read out. A standing ovation as he walked down the touchline. A banner proclaiming 'Welcome Home Becks.'

Kisses and cuddles with Old Trafford staff, a hug from the mascot and a roar loud enough to launch a moon rocket when he came on after 63 minutes.

At which point Milan only needed five goals to win! Come on, 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.

Quite right too. Eight years, 394 matches, 85 goals. That is sterling service. Especially when you compute into the nostalgia goals such as the one from his own half against Wimbledon and performances such as the two crosses which saw Dwight Yorke score the goals which defeated Inter Milan in the 1999 Champions League quarter final.

They remember those moments at Old Trafford. They appreciate Beckham's work rate and devotion, even if he did leave for Real Madrid in strained circumstances not long after Sir Alex Ferguson had drawn blood with the infamous flying boot which caught Beckham above an eye.

Then again the United fans could afford to be generous. They were going through to the last eight of the Champions League and, well, Beckham wasn't.

They were dreaming of another glorious treble, with the Carling Cup already in the cabinet, on course for a 12th Premier League title and with a fourth European Cup a distinct possibility.

By contrast Beckham's side languish behind rivals Inter in Serie A. His one focus now is winning a place on England's World Cup plane to South Africa.

As a man of substance.

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