WHEN the UEFA Champions League resumes next week, David Beckham, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka could all be forgiven for being slightly nostalgic.
The trio, who have all won the world’s greatest club competition in their illustrious careers, have all returned to grace the knockout rounds of the tournament from Los Angeles Galaxy and Shanghai Shenhua respectively.
While Drogba and Anelka returned to Europe after ill-fated spells in China, the transfer which captivated the world’s imagination, however, was that of Beckham.
The 37-year-old former England captain joined French giants Paris Saint-Germain, who play Valencia in the last-16, on a five-month contract last month for ‘one last adventure’.
And for the midfielder, who in his storied career won the Champions League with Manchester United in 1999 before leaving for Real Madrid in 2003, European silverware at the final in Wembley come May could be the perfect Hollywood ending.
His last Champions League appearance in the event came in 2009 when he played for AC Milan, on loan from the Galaxy, against United in 2010.
While his legs might have gone, PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti — who won the event twice with Milan in 2003 and 2007 — believes Beckham’s age isn’t a barrier for success in the elite competition.
“It’s true he is 37 but he’s still a professional,” Ancelotti told French TV channel beIN Sport earlier this week. “I remember a certain player who won the Champions League at 39 and his name is Paolo Maldini.”
Milan legend Maldini was the captain when the club won their last Champions League title in 2007.
Seven-time winners Milan play four-time champions Barcelona in one of the top matches of the last-16 but the glamour tie of the round sees Beckham’s two former clubs go head to head for a spot in the quarter-finals.
And he couldn’t pick the winner of the clash between Real and United.
“I love both clubs,” Beckham said in an interview with designer brand H&M on Thursday. “I’ve been a United fan since I was five years old but I’m still in love with Real ... it will be a great game.”
French striker Anelka, who won the Champions League with Real in 2000, has joined Italian giants Juventus on a five-month deal on loan from Shenhua.
Juventus face Scottish side Celtic in their last-16 tie and Anelka is looking forward to beating them and en route to winning the Champions League.
“If the coach chooses to play me, I’m ready for Celtic,” he told Daily Record in an interview on Friday. “One of the reasons I joined Juventus is because I believe we have the quality to win the Champions League this season.”
“It’s been nearly 13 years since I won the Champions League with Real Madrid and it is a dream to add one more before I stop playing.”
His team-mates believe he can do exactly that and they are counting on his experience on taking them through to glory in Wembley.
“He is used to winning and has great international pedigree,” fellow striker Alessandro Matri told Sky Italia on Thursday. “That will be very useful for us because there aren’t many in our team who can count on such experience on the European stage.”
Anelka’s former clubs include PSG and Arsenal, who face Bayern Munich in another enticing last-16 tie.
Bayern were denied a Champions League title at their own Allianz Arena last season by a dazzling Drogba, who inspired Chelsea to their first ever Champions League title.
The Ivorian’s last act in the Champions League was the winning penalty in the shootout against Bayern last May before he departed to China.
He couldn’t, however, resist the lure of the Champions League, and joined Turkish giants Galatasaray last month looking to replicate his feats of last season with his first challenge coming against German club Schalke 04 in the last-16.
“I’m coming to Galatasaray to win the Champions League,” Drogba told Turkish daily Milliyet following his arrival in Istanbul on Thursday.
“Galatasaray are a great club, not only in Turkey but in Europe as well and this season they’re already in the last-16. I want to win the Champions League for a second time … and I believe they can too.”