MILAN // The 269th Milan derby tonight will be Paolo Maldini's last. Whether it will be David Beckham's only experience of the San Siro at its most intense remains to be seen, as his employers, Los Angeles Galaxy and AC Milan, who have him on loan until March 9, dance around what price would be sufficient for Beckham to prolong his stay in Italy.
The former captain of England knows only that after this evening he is likely to feel even more enamoured of his Italian adventure. "I've been lucky to have played in a Manchester derby, in a Madrid derby and now a Milan derby," Beckham said. "It's our away game, so it will be full of Inter fans and it will be some atmosphere." This was the sort of Serie A, a place of "passion and style", he had looked forward to when he joined Milan last month.
He is now addicted and remains hopeful that LA Galaxy's ultimatum - on Friday they declared time had run out to negotiate an extension of the loan - does not rule out a longer-term future with Milan, even if it is next season. "I had always expected to be here for few months and then return to Galaxy. It really didn't enter into my mind when I made the loan decision to stay. But, pretty soon after I arrived and playing my first one or two games, I realised I wanted to play at this level."
Galaxy turned down Milan's £5million (Dh26m) bid for Beckham and the Italians failed to increase their offer. The chief executive of Galaxy owners AEG, Tim Leiweke, told the Los Angeles Times that no late bid would be considered, at least this season. "He [Beckham] will be back here on March 9, and we don't want to entertain any more conversations now," Leiweke said."It is a distraction to [the Galaxy coach] Bruce Arena, the team and the fans, and we move on. That's the last we're going to talk about this.
"They'll come back [with another offer], sure they will. But we owe it to our fans [not to consider it]," he added. The level Beckham has reached in the last three weeks had surprised colleagues. He has set up or scored four of Milan's last six league goals, and his understanding on the field with Kaka, with Clarence Seedorf and with Alexandre Pato has quickly developed. "We really work on that sort of thing," said Beckham. "There's probably only one day a week that we don't work on the shape of the team and where to move. For me, that emphasis is something new, something I'm really enjoying.
"When you are with players like Kaka, it's pretty easy to play well. Sometimes you give them the ball in the right place and they've just made the right move and go and finish it off. I'm very lucky to be in a team with so many great players. But it is a different style of play. Everyone knows the Italians, tactically, are the best." Inter hold an eight-point advantage over Milan, for whom Kaka is a fitness doubt, going into today.
That is credit, says Beckham, to the head coach of the league leaders. "For me Jose Mourinho is one of the best coaches in football," he said. "Mourinho has done well at every club he has been at and now he's doing well with Inter. For me, Alex Ferguson is the best manager around, but when Mourinho first came into the Premier League he was a breath of fresh air, with the sort of confidence and ability not many managers out there have."