Belfast Telegraph

No looking Beck as Manchester United celebrate famous Milan win

It was an extraordinary night on which 34-year-old David Beckham must have felt old. Very old.

He played just 71 minutes of his much-heralded reunion with Manchester United.

But by the time he departed his AC Milan team-mates had been run ragged. By younger legs and brighter minds. By the brilliance of Wayne Rooney who scored his 24th and 25th goals of a wonderful season in a 3-2 victory which puts United well on their way to the last eight of the Champions League.

Beckham is history as far as United are concerned. Rooney is the present and the best chance United have of a glorious future.

It sounds easy. It wasn't. At least not at first. Because you can add to the mix in the San Siro the paint-stripping fire of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Not since Ferguson took an angry swipe at a stray boot in the United dressing room back in 2003 and saw it fly into the face of Beckham has he had cause to tear so coruscatingly into his side.

He raged at Jonny Evans on the touchline in the first half when United's defence could be best described as sloppy.

He mouthed his displeasure at the slackness of Raphael and no doubt seethed inside at some errant passing from Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick in midfield and at the wastefulness of Nani.

At times United were awful in that first half. They really were. They could have been three or four goals down at half-time.

Instead they were level, but only courtesy of the luckiest of Scholes miscues.

Then the young legs took over.

And you remembered that Beckham was described as like something from a waxworks museum by one Italian newspaper following Milan's defeat in the derby against 10-man Inter three weeks ago.

Harsh perhaps, but there is no doubt a lack of pace and fluent movement is Beckham's enemy as he attempts to prove to England manager Fabio Capello that he is worth his place at a fourth World Cup.

When Beckham secured his loan spell in Italy it was assumed it was what he needed to guarantee his World Cup ambition.

It may not be so cut and dried. The fact is wherever you look in this Milan side there are players who appear to have their best days behind them.

Alessandro Nesta is 34, Clarence Seedorf almost 35, Andrea Pirlo, 30, and Ronaldinho 30 next month. Beckham is 35 in little more than two months' time.

It explains why Milan occupy third spot in Serie A and trail nine points behind leaders Inter.

True, Beckham still retains the ability to deliver a dead ball as well as anyone in football.

And Milan's first goal came indirectly from the chaos his early free-kick caused in United's defence, the partially-cleared ball falling to Ronaldinho whose shot was deflected past Edwin van der Sar into the net.

There were a couple of other deliveries too which screamed quality but it was easy to see why Capello sees Beckham as a 10-minute cameo player and little else.

He keeps the ball well enough, demands the ball, but no longer are his legs capable of influencing a football match over the whole piece. He lacks impact.

But we knew that. Just as we knew what a clear and present danger Rooney is to football defences right now.

His two headers must have given Capello a warm glow on a wintry night. Thoughts might even have drifted to July in South Africa and what might be if the United striker can take his current form on to the biggest stage of all.

That is for another day. Right now Rooney is carrying United in a way which eluded Beckham even in his pomp.

Belfast Telegraph


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