DUBAI // When David Beckham steps out at the Sevens ground in an AC Milan shirt on Tuesday night it will be a moment he probably never thought would happen after heading to America for what many thought would be a final pay day and easy life in the sun. Milan probably never thought Beckham would grace their ranks either. Its a deal that benefits both parties off the field, but after all the talk and razzmatazz surrounding the England midfielder's arrival, things now get serious.
He has to prove he is still an asset on the football pitch too. The match against Hamburg is just one step for Beckham on the road to showing he can still perform at the highest level, with tougher tests in Serie A still to come. The even bigger aim, at 33, is to show he is still worthy of a place in Fabio Capello's rejuvenated England side. His loan spell from the Los Angeles Galaxy runs only until March, but those three months could have a telling impact on the rest of Beckham's career
We may not learn so much tonight on his debut in tonight's friendly. Beckham limped out of training yesterday with a thigh injury, though it isn't thought to be serious enough to keep him out of tonight's game. Emerson, Milan's Brazilian midfielder, a teammate at Real Madrid believes Beckham's professionalism and drive mean he can only succeed. "He always been positive to the group," he said. "His life out of the pitch is his life, but on it, he is very professional. He talks to everybody and is trying to feel part of the group because he has only a little time to be with us. He knows the responsibility to play in a team like ours."
Expectations will be immense. Beckham knows that, and it is something he has been used to ever since he first broke through at Manchester United. All eyes will be on him too when Milan take on Martin Jol's German side. But Jol, the former Tottenham coach, said: "It is not only Beckham, but a lot of other international players. We don't play against David Beckham, but against AC Milan." The Beckham factor has, of course, created interest around the game and Milan's training camp in the Emirates.
But another player who will look to show off his tricks is no less than Ronaldinho, a former World Player of the Year. The Brazilian is smiling again after the disappointing end to his time at Barcelona. His former teammate Gianluca Zambrotta is now with him at Milan and sees the way he has regained his appetite for the game and form. "I was fortunate to play with him at Barcelona and now Milan," said the Italian full-back. "He was one of the most important players there and he will be for us. He is a special player and now doing well for our team."
For Hamburg, this game will be a good experience for a side which has been reshaped following Jol's arrival and the loss of big names like Rafael van der Vaart, Vincent Kompany and Mohamed Zidan. Nigel de Jong, the Dutch international, could make his comeback after two months out with a knee injury. His name has been linked with a move to the English Premier League, but he says a move is not the target right now.
"We will see," he said. "At the moment I am still at Hamburg. Of course it is not the top for a footballer, but I am not looking to other places. I was surprised Vincent left [for Manchester City], but maybe it was better for him to go to another environment. I am glad he's playing and doing well." firstname.lastname@example.org