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Autumn in Milan: Beckham’s Italian swansong

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The details of that memorable Champions League night in March 2010, an emotional homecoming in the form of a 26-minute substitute cameo, are covered elsewhere. Beckham’s Italian jobs – not one, but two stints in the red and black of Milan – may have been brief, but they spoke volumes for a footballer still as madly in love with the game as the shy young hopeful from Leytonstone who idolised Bryan Robson. It’s no coincidence that during his appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2017, Beckham plumped for I Am the Resurrection. Regardless of that indelible Mancunian connection of time and place, the Stone Roses song mirrors his own quest for reinvention; that restlessness for fresh challenges.

News of Beckham’s arrival at Milan on a three-month loan deal in January 2009 was greeted with a relatively lukewarm response. Though they had been among his suitors when he left Madrid, Milan had baulked at a reported US$250million (£152m) to secure his services – a figure later revealed by Beckham’s management company to have been a publicity stunt. In truth, the five-year deal with LA Galaxy was to cost the club US$32 million – not exactly a thrifty existence, but less than he’d been earning in Spain.

Though still lean at 33, Beckham hadn’t played competitively for two months. Billed as a means of getting fit in the MLS close season, with an eye fixed on an England swansong at the 2010 World Cup, critics alighted on the attendant media circus, citing the happy coincidence of the lucrative opportunities afforded in Europe’s fashion capital.

When rumours of the deal were leaked a month in advance, Milan’s vice-president, Adriano Galliani, conceded that it couldn’t hurt the club’s finances.

“Football today is about full stadiums and sponsors, and superstars like Beckham fill them up,” he said. “With him, Kaka and Ronaldinho, it will be a dream team.”Visitors to any major city at the time would have been familiar with billboard  posters from which Beckham loomed, sprawled in a pair of Giorgio Armani underpants.

On Milan’s training ground it was clear that Beckham was not about to be undressed despite the stellar company on Milan’s roster that also included Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf and Paolo Maldini. Coach Carlo Ancelotti noted Beckham’s keenness, and pitched him straight into a central midfield role alongside Pirlo and Seedorf in a 2-2 draw at Roma. He retained his place, this time on the right of midfield, for a 1-0 victory over Fiorentina, and in his third game opened his scoring account with the last goal in a 4-1 romp over Bologna.

Another followed against Genoa three days later. Standing to the left of the 18-yard-box, almost level with the penalty spot, a position from which most would have thought only to cross, he took a step back, before fizzing the ball round the two-man wall and into the near corner to open the scoring. Classic Becks.

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