Emotions couldn't have been more polarized for three already Manchester United legends after Tuesday's historic Champions League matches.
A blue-collar hero continued his ascent into lore at Old Trafford while a champion of the club punctuated his mark on its history.
But while both United stars past and present emerged from its knockout tie against AC Milan with repute, the lamenting anguish of greener pastures overcame a starlet on Spanish shores the same evening.
Rooney Takes Goals, Glory
Man United entered its return leg against Milan comfortable. They exited in full-out party-mode. United eradicated fading perennial European giant AC Milan, 4-0, completing a gross 7-2 victory on aggregate.
Once again, Wayne Rooney popped up to convert another cross with his small, balding head, and tallied again in the second half for his second double across both legs, taking his goal sum this season to 30.
With the ball, Rooney is not without peers. But, if ends justify means, there's few others as deservedly posited "world-class" this year than the Englishman.
There are better players in the world, but none are having as good a season as the swarthy Scouser—at least statistically, so who can deny him eligibility for Player of the Year awards in England and abroad?
Of course, in years hosting the World Cup, players must primarily excel on the national stage to accommodate voting bias, so such a rapacious campaign for club could be overshadowed.
But for United, with 30 goals in all competitions, Rooney is doing everything right at club level.
And there's plenty of games left, including at least two legs in the Champions League quarterfinals.
Beckham Pens His Own Script
Though AC Milan had nothing to take away from their humiliating cumulative loss, one of its players walked away from Old Trafford with repute intact, if not bolstered.
Certainly Becks himself made it so; in the years since his profitable departure, his love for former club and manager was always available at the tip of the nostalgic midfielder's tongue.
Whether plying his hybrid brand of football and pop stardom in Spain or America, Beckham is always more than willing to heap sentiment on his memories of Manchester.
The club he loved as a kid continues to receive his affection, and as he entered the foregone match, he visibly held back not pining sadness, but joy unbridled as the terraces chanted his name with love and conviction yet again.
Arguably Milan's best player during those last 30 minutes, Beckham exited the Theater of Dreams still a primary player. The curtains fell, and he dressed in costume, donning a green-and-gold scarf in support of the populist anti-Glazer movement; another image of a storied career built upon them.
If the most-capped Englishman stays healthy and continues to play often and well enough for Milan, he seems odds-on to get a final chance at glory and make the squad for the 2010 World Cup.
There lies the final catalyst in what has always been his personal crusade to fully and finally restore his pride after his personal hell in the 1998 World Cup.
The simple man who, so unwittingly, shouldered the game across continents, is at least deserving of the chance to extinguish his career in a last, personal blaze of glory and redemption.
You might even say the fans of the game deserve it too: Witnessing the midfielder, commodity, and tentative icon returned to his element on pitches across South Africa as the blinding spotlight on his career finally and mercifully dims and extinguishes.
Ronaldo Comforted Only by His Coffers
Another former United number seven who left Manchester for the starry skies of Madrid also tasted defeat this night, but for him it was bitter without sweetness.
For the always emotional Cristiano Ronaldo, the post-knockout concussion must weigh even heavier, as his expensive Galactico side drop out of Europe entoto as his former club again progresses.
It was proven before that simply splashing cash around for surfeit of attacking talent doesn't equate to trophied success; in fact it was the same Madrid club who proved it some years ago!
As his old friends continue deeper into Europe without him, the hypersensitive Ronaldo could do little else but scurry off the Bernabeu pitch as cameras caught the familiar look of anguish strewn across his conflicted visage.
But there is no room for regret within these margins. Ronaldo left United to mutual benefit. The club needed the money, and Ronaldo could do little else at United currently, having already won every trophy and individual honor while a Red.
No one should blame him for moving abroad to further challenge his immense talent, but that surely won't stop him from carrying around regret like a bag of bricks.
And as Beckham learned, so does Ronaldo: You can take the player out of Manchester, but you can't take United out of the player.
Cristiano said in February, "Maybe in the future I could return to play there? Of course I miss Manchester United."
Surely now more than before.
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