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AC Milan's press conference on the eve of their UEFA Champions League first knockout round first-leg tie against Manchester United FC was even more animated than usual as the massed ranks of the media jostled for positions at Milanello.
The star attraction, David Beckham, may not be sure of a place in the starting lineup against his former club, but on Monday at least he was the only player on anyone's mind. As he fielded questions it was clear Beckham was moved by the idea of facing the team he represented nearly 400 times and helped win the UEFA Champions League in 1999.
"I am a Manchester United supporter and for the first time in my life I will have to hope for them to lose," said the 34-year-old, who left Old Trafford in 2003. "I grew up in Manchester and I stayed there until I was 27. I thought I would play with them forever. [United manager] Sir Alex Ferguson was like a father to me; even with the highs and lows I only have good memories of him. Many things will come to my mind at San Siro tomorrow night. I have so many memories of Manchester, nice ones."
Beckham returned to Milan for a second loan spell from LA Galaxy in January with one eye on cementing a place in Fabio Capello's England FIFA World Cup squad. Should he help Milan reclaim the European crown before then, the England manager will be hard-pressed to leave him out. Beckham knows it will not be easy to put that plan into practice, however, especially with United standing in the way.
"Manchester United are such a great team, we won't just need to see a great Milan, we will also need a bit of luck," he commented. History nonetheless favours the Rossoneri, who have won all four of the two-legged ties between these sides in this competition. The most recent came in 2006/07, when Kaká inspired Milan to a 3-0 second-leg triumph at San Siro in the semi-finals en route to lifting the trophy.
Kaká has since left and it will fall to the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Ronaldinho and David Beckham to fill the gap. "What counts now is to be ready for this game," said the Englishman. "It's the same in the league when we play a big team: we must be ready. It will be really emotional for me because it's the first time since I left seven years ago that I have played Manchester United and for the first time in my life I will have to hope for them to lose. Now I play for Milan, so my aim is to play a great game and try to qualify for the next round."
Milan coach Leonardo will choose between Beckham and Gennaro Gattuso in midfield, but having waited so long for this moment, 'Becks' is happy to bide his time, so long as the result is the right one. "I don't care if I start from the first minute or not," he said. "I would like to have an influence on these two games and qualify for the quarter-finals."
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