Beckham endears himself to the United fans by donning the symbolic scarf [EPA]

Former Manchester United star David Beckham made his return to Old Trafford last night as AC Milan were knocked out of the European Champions League by a stellar United performance.

There was much applause for the performance of striker Wayne Rooney who fired United to a 4-0 victory with a brace of goals, but Beckham also earned his share of the applause when he returned to the stadium where he spent the best years of his career.

Some of that applause was loudest at the end of the match when Beckham donned the symbolic green and gold scarf that symbolises the protest by United fans against the club's American owners.

Protests

United fans have taken to wearing the old colours in protest at the level of the club's debts under the Glazer family.

Fans are trying to force the Glazer family into selling the club, which has debts of around $1.1 billion.

While Beckham has distanced himself from the motives behind the campaign, he picked up the scarf from the pitch as he walked off.

"I saw the scarf there. I put it round my neck,'' Beckham said.

"It's nothing to do with me the way everything is run, that's to do with other people, but I'm a Manchester United fan and I support the team.

"Obviously, you hear it week in and week out about the protests. There's always protests going on. Let's hope it gets sorted out.''

Emotional return

Beckham played 394 matches for Manchester United before leaving for Real Madrid in 2003.

Now on loan at AC Milan from Los Angeles Galaxy, the 34-year-old player only played the last 25 minutes in the loss to Manchester United that ended the Italian club's run in the European competition.

While much has changed behind the scenes since Beckham left United - the Glazers' takeover came two years after his departure - the team's ability to ruthlessly dismantle opponents has not.

United advanced 7-2 on aggregate with the lopsided win at Old Trafford following a 3-2 win in Italy over Milan.

"Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say you have been beaten by a better team"

David Beckham

"Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say you have been beaten by a better team,'' Beckham said.

Even so, the fans showed their appreciation for Beckham.

"Coming back home to Old Trafford was a really emotional night,'' Beckham said.

"I never underestimate the Manchester United fans.

"The way they supported me through my whole career is incredible and tonight surprised me even more. It was an unbelievable reception.

"I didn't think I'd get here again. After a few years you think it's not going to happen seven years on, first time back. As much as it was disappointing (for Milan to lose) it was really an incredible night.''

While seven-times champions Milan look very much last year's model, United are now into the quarter-finals of the European Champions League and are well on their way to chasing a third successive final appearance.

They have a generally young and buoyant team and, with Wayne Rooney in unstoppable form, they fear nobody. 

Source: Agencies