Patrice Evra guarantees David Beckham a warm welcome
Beckham's return to United with AC Milan will dominate minds for the next two months. It will be the former England captain's first return visit to the club he served with such distinction before leaving in 2003 after Sir Alex Ferguson tired of his love of the limelight.
Although the pair have since patched up their differences, and shook hands in public ahead of United's meeting with Inter Milan at the San Siro 12 months ago, the competitive edge of both men will ensure a highly-charged last-16 tie.
Evra did not join United until two and a half years after Beckham had left to join Real Madrid, but is well aware of Beckham's status and will reserve the warmest of welcomes for a man he will probably end up marking in the first leg at the San Siro on February 16, with the return leg at Old Trafford three weeks later. However, that is where the kindness will end.
"I am very happy for David Beckham,'' said the France full back. "He did a lot of great things for Manchester United and I want to say to him ''welcome home'.
"I have met him. He is a gentleman. He is a good person and a good professional. This is why Milan wanted him to go back there. I like that type of player. He is still one of the best right-footed players in the world. But I hope he plays badly and I intend to make sure he doesn't do very well.''
The match could also be the first time Ronaldinho has played against United since he rejected them when Ferguson had tied up a deal for the Brazilian to become Beckham's replacement.
And it will have not escaped any United fan's attention that the seven-time European Cup winners have beaten them in all four two-legged ties between the sides, including three semi-finals.
The last one, a 3-0 drubbing in 2007, remains the last time United have lost a European away game, and cost them a final meeting with Liverpool. Yet Evra believes that defeat spurred the Red Devils on to reach the last two finals.
"That was a frustrating year,'' he said. "We didn't play well in the first leg, even though we won 3-2. I was suspended for the second game and watched it on TV. It was horrible to lose like that but after that game we had a lot more experience.
"The year afterwards we won the Champions League. The following year we reached the final. Now we are still using that experience and we have enough to win this game.''
Beckham though will remain the central figure. All the famous incidents, from the goals and the glory to the infamous day of the flying boot at Old Trafford, will be raked over.
"Who can say whether it will help or not the fact that all the focus will be on him,'' Evra added. "After all, when we played against Barcelona it was all Messi v Ronaldo. For us it is normal. The pressure is normal. I am more interested in playing against AC Milan than David Beckham.
"What I do know is that our confidence is high. For us, the target every year is to reach the final, and from there to win it.''
Meanwhile, AC Milan organisational manager Umberto Gandini is confident the Rossoneri can repeat their 2007 semi-final victory over United.
He told Eurosport: "It's a difficult tie, we know that but we can be boosted by the result the last time we played them. That year we went on to win the competition.
"They are still two great teams but they are very different to 2007. Now there is no Kaka, no (Cristiano) Ronaldo and no (Paolo) Maldini."
On Beckham's return, he said: "It's a great occasion for David, who will be playing for us from January, to go back to Old Trafford to play against Manchester United for the first time."
Milan coach Leonardo said: "I think it'll be a beautiful, extraordinary match. These are great matches to play, to experience in every sense. In this case there is Beckham's situation, which is a very beautiful thing for him and for us. Every clash has its ingredients that can contribute to making it more beautiful.
"These meetings give extra colour to the great clashes, with (Karim) Benzema going back to (Olympique) Lyon, (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic meeting Inter again and Kaka meeting Milan again (in the group stage), (Jose) Mourinho against Chelsea again.
"I think they're a team of great tradition with the same objectives that we have and we'll play on level terms. They're a great team, of course."