After receiving a standing ovation and hearing his name chanted, David Beckham reciprocated on his Old Trafford homecoming by providing Manchester United fans with a high-profile image for their campaign to oust the club-owning Glazer family.
As he left the pitch following AC Milan's 4-0 loss in the Champions League on Wednesday, Beckham wore one of the green-and-gold protest scarves adopted by fans trying to force a sale of the club, which has debts of $1.1 billion US.
While Beckham distanced himself from the motives behind the campaign, merely appearing to show solidarity by wearing the scarf — lifted from the pitch — is likely to make him a symbol of the anti-Glazer movement.
"I saw the scarf there. I put it round my neck," said Beckham, who is on loan at Milan from the Los Angeles Galaxy. "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."
While much has changed behind the scenes since Beckham left United in 2003 — the Glazers' takeover came two years after his departure — the team's ability to ruthlessly dismantle opponents has not.
And Beckham's Milan side felt the full impact of the Premier League champions by being eliminated from the European competition 7-2 on aggregate.
"Sometimes, you just have to hold your hands up and say you have been beaten by a better team," Beckham said.
By the time the England midfielder came off the bench with around 25 minutes to go with the score at 3-0, this elite European fixture resembled his testimonial.
'A really emotional night'
This was the first time the 34-year-old midfielder faced United at Old Trafford since his acrimonious departure for Real Madrid after 394 matches, and the fans showed their appreciation.
"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 [to lose], it was really an incredible night."
Now the Italian league offers Beckham's only chance of ending his second loan spell at Milan with a trophy. Leonardo's side is four points behind Inter Milan.