Now wearing the colors of AC Milan and surrounded by some of the biggest names in the game, David Beckham begins a new chapter in his colorful career on Tuesday when he lines up for the seven-time European champion in a friendly against Hamburg in the United Arab Emirates.
On loan until March from the Los Angeles Galaxy, Beckham will also be playing Serie A football on Sunday and for the next few weeks will be passing to such teammates as Ronaldinho, Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko, Paolo Maldini, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, Alessandro Nesta, Pato, Filippo Inzaghi and Dida. After three months with these stars, he will go back to the US to play alongside Edson Buddle, Alan Gordon, Bryan Jordan, Michael Gavin, Mike Munoz, Troy Roberts and Steve Cronin when Major League Soccer kicks off again.
While these may be names to Galaxy fans, it's like swapping vintage champagne for luke warm beer in terms of the quality of football.
When Beckham returns to the Home Depot Center after sampling the atmosphere of the San Siro Stadium, he may take a long, hard look at where his career stands.
At age 33, the England midfielder is approaching the twilight of what has been a long and hugely successful life as a player and fashion icon.
He still has the ability to dominate games in MLS, a league which would be considered second tier at best in England, Italy, Spain or Germany. But the Galaxy have flopped twice in his two seasons so far and his short spell in Italy may well give Beckham a major clue as to whether he can still play at the highest level in Europe. "I have never played in Italy and I think it's one of the best leagues in the world," the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star told reporters while training with Milan in Dubai. "I want to concentrate on working with the team. I know the kind of team Milan is, the professionalism that exists, and I am willing to work really hard for my place in the squad."
With such an array of talent to choose from, Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti can't guarantee Beckham many starts. That means the Galaxy star will have few opportunities to convince England coach Fabio Capello coincidentally a former Milan coach to select him for the friendly against Spain in Seville on Feb 11. If Beckham plays against the European champion, he will tie Bobby Moore's record 108 appearances for an outfield England player. But Capello has made it clear he won't pick him purely on sentiment and Beckham will have to show him he is fully fit and back to his best form.
Although England has won all four of its qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup, Beckham's contribution in each match has been as a late substitute. That means he remains in Capello's plans but not as a starter and younger players are effectively nudging him slowly toward international retirement.
Beckham is contracted to go back to the Galaxy but Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport said Monday he has a clause in his deal that he can leave the club at the end of the year, his third in MLS.
"I always try to have no regrets in life, or in my career. I made the decision to go to LA two years ago and I've had a good time there," he said. "Now I have this chance to play for one of the biggest clubs in the whole world. I'm enjoying my time with the club and the fans are just great."
If Beckham produces his trademark free kicks provided Ronaldinho, Pirlo and Milan's other free kick specialists let him have the ball and sprays his accurate long passes around the field, he could be a big hit with the Milan players and fans, especially if the team makes up ground on Inter Milan in the Serie A title race.
But Beckham is just one of a team full of stars at Milan and may well return to MLS after just a brief taste of Serie A and stuck on 107 England appearances.
Despite his noble aim to try to lift the profile of the game in the US, Beckham might not have the same fire on his return to the Galaxy that he had when he joined the team two years ago. A few weeks with the big stars of San Siro might cool his enthusiasm for MLS.
"I love my team, the Los Angeles Galaxy," he said. "But this is a great experience (with Milan). I feel fortunate to have this great chance."