Before Tuesday, the last time David Beckham was involved in a European game of such magnitude involving Manchester United, he made an exciting but by no means decisive late contribution to the 4-3 classic with Real Madrid in 2003 - scoring two goals from the bench in a lost cause, during a time when he was at loggerheads with Sir Alex Ferguson. In one of his legion of autobiographies, Beckham later irked United fans by admitting he had gone home to tell his sons of "daddy's special night", when United had actually exited the competition, serving of proof to some that he had set his sights on a move to the Santiago Bernabeu.
The football media is nothing but predictable and I'm sure our readers would argue that the Soccernet team are often prone to taking an obvious line. However, watching certain broadcasters' seeming intention to relegate a Champions League match between AC Milan and Manchester United to becoming another chapter in the David Beckham Story (TM) was somewhat depressing.
That Beckham put in a largely anonymous performance did little to lift the spirits; he still remained the focus. While my colleague Harry Harris saw enough to suggest that Beckham can be an asset to England in South Africa, his editor was left wondering what function he performed for AC Milan. The arrival of a somewhat heavy-looking Clarence Seedorf showed Milan what they had been missing on the right-hand side of a midfield three. Suddenly, his team looked possessive of energy in midfield and had someone to play the sharp and incisive passes that the likes of Inzaghi, Pato and Ronaldinho could thrive on.
The post-match coverage by Sky, for it was they, hugely over-played Beckham's role in Milan's early opener. His long punt was key to the goal in that it went in via a hopeless Evra clearance, borne of having to take responsibility for Jonny Evans collywobbles, a smart hit from Ronaldinho and Michael Carrick's boots to wrong-foot Edwin van der Sar. When hopefully asked about Beckham's dead-ball delivery to a goal awarded to the Brazilian, Ferguson was rightly dismissive. Even that was taken by host Richard Keys as a slight on the Scot's one-time former charge.
To focus so much on Milan's intern from America seemed a waste, considering what a truly intriguing game it had been. Ronaldinho had looked in revival during the game's early stages, as United rocked on uneasy heels. Yet, by the end of the game, it was Wayne Rooney who was announcing his imminent invitation to the top table. Both teams had exposed soft underbellies and set up the second leg as a potential thriller.
What of the man himself, who, as ever, had done little to pipe down the media's quest for soundbites on his relationship with a club he left in somewhat acrimonious circumstances? What of him as an actual player? United's athleticism in midfield, specifically through Park and Fletcher, had overrun Milan's experienced trio of Beckham, Pirlo and Ambrosini, and granted Paul Scholes, after a shaky start in which the radar had failed him, the space to play. Looking back on Beckham's frustration at never being granted a central role when a United player, Scholes showed why he was always the preferred choice. Both are capable of the so-called "Hollywood ball" but it is Scholes' vision and incision when involved in short interchanges of play that made him the favoured playmaker.
One of these players is heavily rumoured to be retiring this summer, the other has spoken of his desire to maybe still be playing in 2014. Yet it was Scholes who completed the 90 minutes while Beckham leggily departed to the San Siro's heated seats in exhaustion with 18 minutes still to play. Beckham is no longer the middle-distance runner he once was, the young man who demolished the rest of United's squad in "bleep tests" at the Cliff training ground. Scholes, you'd fancy, was rarely in the forefront of the cross-country runs back then, but a decade on, he appeared on Tuesday's evidence to be more capable of making an impact on a top-level match.
Of course, the differing paths and public personalities adopted by Scholes and Beckham are Manchester United's own chalk and cheese. Scholes, once he has taken his leave of the game, may never be heard of again, and would happily keep it that way. Brand Beckham is expected to own its own MLS franchise and who knows what else besides.
The build-up to Tuesday's game saw Beckham talk of how he had never wanted to leave United, words aimed in the usual PR-friendly fashion yet perhaps ringing not quite so true to some. He, rightly, was applauded by the travelling hordes in their green and gold for his contribution to his former club, yet his contribution to the game itself had been so anaemic as to signal that a substitute's role in the second leg may be the only way for daddy to again enjoy a special night.