A year can be a very long time in the life of a globe-trotting football star. After a disappointing beginning to life in the United States, for many David Beckham's touchdown in Serie A last January on loan from LA Galaxy to AC Milan smacked of desperation.
Twelve months on, the England midfielder has bedded back in with the Rossoneri, answered his critics in the United States by helping the Galaxy to the play-off final and, with the World Cup approaching, cemented a place in Fabio Capello's England squad.
While 2009 was characterised by accusations in the Italian press of a Silvio Berlusconi-engineered marketing move and rumblings in the dressing room and terraces over the incorporation of another ageing player, Beckham's second coming in 2010 has been universally welcomed in Italy by media, players and fans.
The Becks Factor - previously in evidence for Manchester United when winning over the terrace boo-boys after his dismissal against Argentina in England's 1998 World Cup exit and when coming out of the Real Madrid cold to deliver Capello's 2007 team an unexpected Spanish title triumph - appears to be back on full power again.
Despite landing at Malpensa in a private jet and renting out the same luxury hotel suite for another five-month stint, Beckham has exuded a quiet, if diplomatic, modesty since his return at the start of the year. "I don't expect to start games - I just want to be part of the team. My experience with the club was so special for six months. I missed the team, the players, the fans ... It was one of the best six months of my career," the 34-year old explained to reporters at the Milanello training ground before reddening and, in a mix of Italian and Spanish, signing off with "Happy New Year, not just to Milan fans but to all Italians".
With Clarence Seedorf and Alexandre Pato out injured, Beckham was thrust into the starting line-up for Milan's first match back after the winter break on January 6, and 75 minutes later he trotted off with the applause of the San Siro ringing in his ears after an energetic display in a 5-2 thrashing of Genoa.
His second game, just a few days later, a much more difficult affair away to title rivals Juventus, ended in a group embrace and jig of joy with ecstatic team-mates. Playing on the right side of the front three in Leonardo's new 4-3-3 formation, Beckham put in another slick and typically mature performance that featured an 88th-minute cross for Ronaldinho's second and Milan's third and final unanswered goal against an Old Lady made to look very sorry.
"A player of rare tactical intelligence." praised Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy's leading football daily. "He's already one of us again," added captain Massimo Ambrosini, who, nevertheless, had intervened to prevent Ronaldinho handing the ball to Beckham for the side's third penalty and fifth goal against Genoa and instead gave the ball to goal-shy striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
"David is absolutely open to anything," enthused Leonardo, who, despite being just a few years older and looking a good bit younger than a number of Milan performers, has replaced Carlo Ancelotti as coach this season and introduced a 4-3-3 formation that best complements his fellow Brazilian stars Ronaldinho and Pato.
"It's a miracle we got him," vice-president Adriano Galliani, Berlusconi's man at the Milan helm, was eager to reveal to La Domenica Sportiva, a post-match TV programme, on Sunday. "He earns very little from us. He came to Milan for all different reasons than money."
The win in Turin - their first since they last won the title six years ago - leaves Milan firmly in second spot in Serie A, eight points behind their city rivals Inter with a game in hand and with the Derby Della Madonnina coming up on January 24. Two games into Beckham's second stint, suddenly all the talk in Milan is about the Scudetto.
"We are in a healthy position. We're showing enthusiasm, desire, respect and mental strength. Our dressing room's united, including those who are playing less," added Leonardo, who is increasingly being described in Italy's media as Serie A's own version of Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola.
"It will be tough but we can win the title," added Beckham. "We are in a great position and we need to continue because Inter are going to keep winning games and they are the team to catch."
Although Beckham returns to a club with a new coach and without Paolo Maldini (retired) and Kaka (left for Real Madrid), Milan appear a more balanced side this season, compensated by the return from injury of centre-half Alessandro Nesta and striker Marco Borriello.
Former World Player of the Year Ronaldinho appears to be enjoying his football again, while Milan Lab appears to have worked wonders on the energy levels of the 30-something midfield quartet of Ambrosini, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and Seedorf. Dida looks confident again between the sticks and Pato, despite a woeful opening to the season, is destined to be the jewel in the red-and-black crown.
When all are fit, Beckham, whose contract with Milan still remains something of a mystery, may well find it tough to break into the first XI. But like many coaches before him, including England manager Capello, Leonardo will also be loath to leave out a player who has already been a champion in England and Spain.
And if a possible Scudetto and the World Cup in South Africa were not motivation enough for Beckham to go the extra mile this season, Milan's opponents in the last 16 of the Champions League next month happen to be his first and foremost club, Manchester United.
"I think I almost cried," said the player on hearing the draw and a return to Old Trafford. But even if it does all end in tears, the next six months look set to add up to another valuable chapter in the adventures of David Beckham.