As David Beckham prepares for his long-awaited return to Old Trafford, one of his successors in the Manchester United FC midfield, Darren Fletcher, plans a warm welcome for his former team-mate.
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As David Beckham prepares for his long-awaited return to Old Trafford, one of his successors in the Manchester United FC midfield, Darren Fletcher, is planning a warm welcome – although the top priority remains a place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
Beckham struggled to impose himself in the first leg at San Siro three weeks ago, United emerging 3-2 victors, but received plenty of support from the visiting fans. Fletcher expects more of the same in Manchester on Wednesday. "I'm sure he'll be welcomed back and will get a good reception, just as he did in Milan," said the 26-year-old, who began to appear more regularly for United following Beckham's departure for Real Madrid CF in summer 2003.
"He's a top-class player. He was one of the players you looked up to as a youngster at Old Trafford – like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane. He's had a successful career and is still battling for a place in the England World Cup squad so I'm sure he'll be looking to impress everyone. But once the game kicks off, all that friendship and comeback stuff goes out the window and it's all about winning the game."
The win on Italian soil makes United firm favourites to reach a fourth successive quarter-final, although the absences of the suspended Michael Carrick and the injured Ryan Giggs (elbow) and Anderson (cruciate knee ligament) leave them short of numbers in midfield. Fletcher, however, is unconcerned, saying: "It's important in any game [not to let opponents] set an early tempo. Yes, we're missing players but we've got great players who can come in. Darron Gibson has come in and done brilliant and Ji-Sung Park played in midfield in Milan, so we've got a lot of options. We can't wait for the challenge of playing against this Milan side. That's why it's great to play for United, because we get plenty of these occasions and you've got to look forward to them and enjoy them – you've got to rise to the challenge."
Thankfully for United, Wayne Rooney, who scored twice in the first leg, is fit after a knee problem; Fletcher is understandably keen for the forward to continue a streak that has brought him 12 goals in his last nine United outings. "Wayne's improved and matured as a player," added the Scottish international. "We're seeing rewards of hard work on the training ground. You can notice that with the headed goals he's scored – he's worked hard on that and once you get one, you go on. He's risen to the challenge of being a goalscorer, his confidence has grown and his performances have improved as the season has gone on. He really believes he's one of best players in the world and his performances are showing that." Sir Alex Ferguson was more succinct, saying of Rooney: "In the form he's in at the moment, he'd be a threat to any team."