x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Beckham made for AC Milan

David Beckham's arrival at the San Siro, albeit belated, was always written in the stars. It is a marriage of the world's biggest footballing celebrity and football's biggest celebrity vehicle.

At AC Milan, the England midfielder David Beckham will be like one of the many superstars: recognisable and attractive but not central.
At AC Milan, the England midfielder David Beckham will be like one of the many superstars: recognisable and attractive but not central.

When David Beckham was a young boy he was asked what he wanted to be when grew up. His answer was only partly similar to that of most of his classmates. "I want to be a famous footballer," he said. Not merely "a footballer" like everybody else. A "famous footballer". Note the power of a simple adjective: famous. Fame is the basis of celebrity. And celebrity sells. It's a concept that Silvio Berlusconi, the Milan owner, understood a long time ago. Whether it was his property empire (his developments promised a "celebrity lifestyle" at affordable prices), his television interests (it's nice to be entertained, it's nicer still to be entertained by celebrities) or, indeed, his football club (success brings supporters, success with celebrities has a multiplier effect) Berlusconi has always wrapped glamour and celebrity around the products he peddled.

Which is why Beckham's arrival at the San Siro, albeit belated (Milan were after him back in 2003) was always written in the stars. It was a marriage of the world's biggest footballing celebrity and football's biggest celebrity vehicle. Many have wondered why the Rossoneri keep their stars hanging around past their sell-by date (Pippo Inzaghi, Paolo Maldini) or why they happily offer second chances to stars seemingly on the decline (Ronaldinho, Andriy Shevchenko). The answer is simple: because Milan are about entertainment, which is what stars - even fading ones - provide.

Throw in the fact that Milan pride themselves - thanks to their state-of-the-art medical and training facilities - on being able to extend playing careers and it's no surprise that Carlo Ancelotti, the Rossoneri boss, went so far as to suggest this week that Beckham could "play on until he was forty". Whether he does at Milan or elsewhere remains to be seen. But in the interim, the club have made it clear that he has already provided an instant boost off the pitch, while showing he can contribute on it. It won't be every game, but then, most of Milan's stars are essentially part-timers. Rather, it will be on an occasional basis. A run-out in midfield, a substitute appearance, a few free kicks, holding back keeps everyone fresh and leaves the audience wanting more.

He's the quintessential cherry on top, which suits him just fine. If in Major League Soccer he was a juggernaut, expected to carry the side single-handedly, at Milan he's like one of the many superstars: recognisable, attractive but not central. And that suits Beckham fine because while age, at 33, may be catching up with him, his work-rate and commitment are as real as they were 15 years ago. Anyone who watched him track back and chase opponents on his debut against Roma last Sunday will confirm this. He has gone from superstar to squad player and he has embraced the role with relish because he knows that, at Milan, even the squad players are "famous footballers". And he recognises that is key to extending his career.

gmarcotti@thenational.ae