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By ESPN Staff

Fergie happy to welcome back Beckham

MANCHESTER, England, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is ready to welcome David Beckham back to Old Trafford when his former protege plays for the visitors in an exhibition match.

Beckham has been picked for a UEFA Select XI to play United in March to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome -- which established the European Economic Community, forerunner to the EU -- and United's 50 years of European football.

It will be the first time Beckham has played against his former club since leaving United to sign for Real Madrid in July 2003.

Beckham's exit followed a deterioration in his relationship with Ferguson and came five months after the former England captain was cut on the head by a boot kicked in anger by Ferguson following a home defeat by Arsenal.

However, Beckham has since played down any suggestions of a fall-out with Ferguson, who says he will be pleased to see the 31-year-old back on his old turf.

'I think it's fantastic,' Ferguson told reporters.

'I think he was a great player at this club and he never had a chance to say goodbye to the fans because the transfer was done during the summer.

'I think he will get a great welcome and deservedly so.'

BECKHAM'S REPUTATION

Beckham's future at Real remains uncertain and while Ferguson would not consider re-signing the midfielder, he is not surprised by Beckham's claim that United would be the only team he would play for in England.

Ferguson added: 'He knows the value of this club. This is where he made his reputation. If I was in his position I would be exactly the same.'

Beckham, who has not played regularly under Real coach Fabio Capello this season, reaches the end of his current contract in Spain next year.

He has been linked with a move to the United States and Ferguson believes Beckham is capable of prolonging his career if he wishes to stay in football.

'It depends what he wants,' Ferguson said. 'Some players want to drive on. I remember reading, although I don't know how accurate it was, that he said he wanted to finish at 32 or 33.

'He has always had natural stamina so if he wants to carry on there's nothing to stop him, physically.'

United are set to be boosted by an influx of new players in January as they chase their first Premier League title since 2003. As well as the arrival of striker Henrik Larsson on loan from Helsingborg, United have secured a work permit for Chinese international Dong Fangzhou, 21, who they signed from Dalian Shide in January 2004.

Ferguson is also bringing back seven players who have been out on loan, including striker Giuseppe Rossi, who is currently with Newcastle United, and has not ruled out further moves into the transfer market.

'I am not leaving anything to chance,' Ferguson said.