David Beckham could play his most meaningful soccer game to date in an AC Milan jersey Tuesday night when the Italian club plays host to Manchester United in a European Champions League round-of-16 game.
Beckham spent 10 years with United, helping the club win six English titles and the Champions League in 1999. Tuesday's game (11:30 a.m., FS West) will be his first against his former team, which he left in 2003 to join Real Madrid.
"Beckham's presence does not distract from the importance of the match," Manchester United captain Gary Neville said. "It's a good story that he is returning to face us seven years after such a good career with United. But I think once the match starts, nobody will be thinking about it."
There is no guarantee that Beckham, 34, will even start. He has been used off the bench in the last two Milan games, and Leonardo, coach of the seven-time European champions, has not tipped his hand.
United Coach Alex Ferguson is taking a ho-hum approach to being back on the same field with Beckham.
"He left seven years ago," Ferguson said. "We move on in life. It's a different team, different players."
United, which lost to AC Milan in the tournament's 2007 semifinals before rebounding to win the trophy for the third time in 2008, has never beaten Milan in Italy or over two legs in any competition. United will be without veteran winger Ryan Giggs and defender Nemanja Vidic, both injured.
The return game will be March 10 in Manchester.
In Tuesday's other Champions League game, nine-time European champion Real Madrid plays at France's Olympique Lyon (11:30 a.m., FSC and FSE).
Real Madrid is seeking to reach the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time since 2004. Its Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is the site of the May 23 final.