Golden boy doesn't put a foot wrong off field either


DAVID BECKHAM’S DEBUT FOR AC MILAN:IT WAS just like the good old days of Diego Maradona. No, we’re not saying David Beckham’s debut in Italian football in Sunday’s 2-2 Roma-AC Milan draw reminded us of the great Diego, at least not on the pitch, writes Paddy Agnew


However, when it comes to the post-match niceties, there are similarities. Twenty years ago in Naples, when the Little Big Man of world soccer finally emerged from the Napoli dressingroom after a match, he tended to be surrounded by a posse of security men, physios, agents, friends, relatives and nondescript others.

So it was at the Olympic Stadium in Rome when Beckham met the Italian and world media in the infamous “mixed zone” area beside the dressingrooms.

Guys who looked as if their day job was with Homeland Security in Iraq scurried in and out of the dressingroom, creating the expectation that sooner or later the Man Himself would appear.

And appear he did. Leather “beauty bag” in hand (no doubt he uses a more complete range of shampoos than the rest of us), the former England captain proved a model of dignity and decorum. Not only did he wait patiently for various TV link-ups he also did the whole run of sound-bite hungry hacks, never once seeming to get annoyed by having to answer the same (not hugely original) question for the umpteenth time.

Beckham’s patience and good manners mean a great deal. For a start, they bear witness to just how glad he is to have escaped that Graveyard of Forgotten Genius that is Major League Soccer (MLS) in America. Watching and listening to him on Sunday night, it was obvious he was delighted to be back in the big time: “When you play with guys like this, it’s just great . . . you just have to give them the ball”, he said in reference to Brazilian striker Pato who scored Milan’s two goals.

It was not for nothing that after Pato had scored his first goal, the first man across to celebrate with him was Beckham. The Englishman has made no secret in training of his high opinion of the 19-year-old Brazilian. Their celebration seemed to confirm those reports from Milan’s Dubai winter camp that Beckham had integrated himself easily and harmoniously into the Milan dressingroom.

Earlier confirmation of Beckham’s integration had, of course, come from the fact he started the game, settling in so well that coach Carlo Ancelotti left him on for 88 minutes. After the match, Ancelotti confirmed that playing him from the start had been “a little reward for inserting himself well into our group.

“This was only his second game with us and he will improve. I believe everyone is happy to have Beckham here.”

One of those delighted to be playing alongside Beckham is Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf. “We have to compliment him,” he said. “He has done a good job and he grew in the game.

“He still needs to improve but I think he can be very satisfied with what he has done after two months of not playing.”

Roma stand-in captain Daniele De Rossi suggested Milan had made a shrewd move in capturing the 33-year-old. “From a media standpoint Beckham is impressive,” De Rossi said. “He is a nice guy, has a beautiful wife, has won so many trophies in his career and perhaps this penalises him as a player, although I believe he has the feet and the determination.”

Kaka has expressed his hope that Beckham will stay at Milan beyond his current loan spell.

“David has shown that he is a player ready to run the extra mile. The first matches showed quite clearly what his qualities are and his passing ability and his capacity to play well. Perhaps these first two months will lead to six months or to one year, to more contracts. I certainly would like to play more with him.”

It was never hard to suggest that Beckham-Milan is a marriage made in football’s PR heaven. His good looks and good manners, not to mention the outlandish interest generated by everything he does (with or without famous wife), sit comfortably with a club that for more than 20 years has been listed under the “cinema and show business” arm of holding company Fininvest, the family treasure chest of owner, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

While Beckham continues to insist he will return to the Los Angeles Galaxy in March, the growing feeling is that, come the end of this year, he will be back in Milan and this time to stay.