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Beckham's golden opportunity

By Jonathan Stevenson
BBC Sport in Milan

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Highlights - Inter Milan 2-1 AC Milan

If there was any lingering doubt about where David Beckham's sporting future should lie, it was dispelled with a vengeance on Sunday.

As Italian league leaders Inter and AC Milan played out a derby of the most brutal intensity, they served only to make Beckham's current position yet more distressing.

The centrepiece of a tug-of-war between Milan and US side LA Galaxy, who still hold his registration, Beckham has found no purpose in hiding his true feelings on the matter, having revealed three times in the past week that he is desperate to complete a permanent switch to Italy.

Having seen the story of the Derby della Madonnina unfold, it is difficult to feel anything other than sympathy for Beckham's situation, and also a desire to see him granted his wish and able to see out his career at one of the world's greatest clubs.

Not to mention one of the greatest leagues; a message emphatically sent out to a global television audience of many millions, including an English public relentlessly told about the quality of the Premier League and even La Liga in Spain, but with little opportunity to compare it to their Italian equivalent.

Jose Mourinho, for one, thinks that is a shame. "You should watch more Italian matches," the Inter coach told me at his pre-match news conference on Saturday. "This league is better for people who understand football very well. In England you should get the chance to watch it."

606: DEBATE

With Beckham, Paolo Maldini, Clarence Seedorf, Ronaldinho, Alexandre Pato, Maicon, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adriano all involved, it truly was a game that belonged to the stars.

Beckham, desperate to continue representing his country for as long as his body will allow, has been reinvigorated by the short time he has spent in Serie A so far.

When his arrival was announced, it was presumed he would take time to gain the fitness required to pull on a Milan shirt after a period of inactivity in the Major League Soccer close season.

But to people's surprise, Beckham turned up in great shape and after just a few days of training with his new club, was deemed fit enough to start the first game he was eligible for, against Roma on 11 January.

Since then, the 33-year-old has remained on an upwards curve in the eyes of the staff, his team-mates and supporters of Milan. Indeed, he was only prevented from having a real say on derby day by a calf injury he picked up on England duty in midweek that forced him off before the hour mark.

Beckham, who has spoken of his ambition to represent his country in a fourth World Cup finals in South Africa next year should Fabio Capello's men qualify, is in the perfect place to make his dream come true.

In only six weeks in Italy, Beckham himself has been astonished by how good he feels, a sign that the famed Milan Lab is still working its magic.

Under the guidance of the brilliant Belgian doctor Jean Pierre Meersseman, the Milanello training complex is home to one of the sport's most astounding stories, of how a club manages not only to reduce non-contact injuries by more than 90% but also keep a host of stars playing well into their 30s. Or 40s, in the case of the peerless Maldini.

Beckham, who will be 35 when the World Cup comes around, did not take long to realise that Dr Meersseman and his team could provide him with the longer career he so craves at the highest level.

David Beckham and Paolo Maldini
Beckham will be hoping to prolong his career as long as 40-year-old Maldini's

"Even though I've had a touch of flu over past few days," Beckham said in a recent interview, "I'm still feeling better physically than I have done for ages.

"The club has put me on a programme that has definitely made a difference."

He's not wrong. On the Milan website, they say the 'Lab' "represents the ideal combination of science, technology, IT, cybernetics and psychology".

In only his first month at the club, Beckham's body fat dropped from 13.7% to 8.5% and Dr Meersseman will have seen no reason to change the diagnosis he made when Beckham first arrived at Milanello.

"He has an exceptional physique which will allow him, like Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta, to play for another five or six years," said Dr Meersseman.

Words which must have been music to Beckham's ears, and the catalyst for him to roll back the years with a clutch of performances that have had Italians raving about their league's newest high-profile recruit.

After his team's 1-1 draw with Milan last weekend, Reggina captain Francesco Cozza told BBC Sport he had nothing but praise for Beckham's performance.

"He was the best Milan player on the pitch when we played them," said Cozza. "His positional sense throughout the game was very, very good.

"He is a big champion and he is demonstrating in every match that he is adapting well to Italian football.

"He also brings sponsors to the game and attracts people to Italian football - in my opinion Serie A needs to have more champions like Beckham."

For England and Capello, the rebirth of the 108-times capped midfielder has been a reminder that in Beckham, they have a player of great quality, experience and motivation at their disposal.

Having been told he could play at the highest level until he is 39, Beckham will no doubt have set his sights on a place in the England starting side when the World Cup finals begins next June.

The midfielder will be looking to have one more attempt on the biggest stage having been in poor condition during the previous two tournaments.

The most persistently ambitious English footballer of his generation has capitalised on the new lease of life Milan have given him by reasserting himself as a world-class footballer, and that status is not something he is likely to relinquish lightly.

A few minutes after the final whistle on Sunday, Beckham was telling journalists of his immense pride at being able to play in "one of the world's greatest fixtures".

Only a fool would bet on it being Beckham's first and final Milan derby.

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see also
European football gallery
14 Feb 09 |  Europe
How Beckham conquered Milan
14 Feb 09 |  Europe
Beckham donates shirt to charity
12 Feb 09 |  Internationals
Beckham reaches England milestone
12 Feb 09 |  Internationals
Beckham on target again for Milan
28 Jan 09 |  Internationals
Beckham agrees to LA Galaxy move
12 Jan 07 |  Football


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