Beckham: the real thing... or not?

WELCOME to Madrid, David Beckham! And these are some of the friendly things the local papers have been saying about him and his world roaming, moneymaking, somewhat androgynous life style.

BRIAN GLANVILLE

WELCOME to Madrid, David Beckham! And these are some of the friendly things the local papers have been saying about him and his world roaming, moneymaking, somewhat androgynous life style. All this too at a time when as we shall see the Real Madrid club could well be torn apart after the callous and summary sacking of manager Vicente del Bosque, just after he had won, admittedly doing it the hard way, yet another Premiera Liga title for the club.

David Beckham is given his shirt by Real Madrid legend De Stefano at a press conference announcing his signing to the club at the Pabelon Raimundo Saporta in Madrid. -- Pic. ROSS KINNAIRD/GETTY IMAGES-

Photographs published in an Italian magazine, showing Beckham and his wife, the talentless singer but ferociously ambitious Relatively Posh Spice, in various "romantic" poses prompted the popular newspaper El Mundo to write that Beckham's image would have a bad effect on the Real team, denoting a signal of the end of Madrid's old ways. Had he gone instead to Barcelona, one feels, that much more permissive city would have tolerated his ways. Madrid, bastion of Franco's authoritarian rule, is a much more macho place, even if the night life in so called Nueva Madrid, the newly built part of the capital, is lively to a degree.

"There is a feminine touch," pursued El Mundo, "again a nod to this ambiguity, including sexual... It doesn't of course mean he is gay, but the great unknown is how the acutely macho and sexist world of Spanish football will take to the ground-breaking Beckham... The king of the pass on the football pitch has no reservation about converting himself into the queen of cool style, without modesty."

Hardly the ideal way to start and perhaps more to the point is the Catch 22 situation which may well result from the fact that Real have cynically bought him less for footballing purposes than to exploit his image, especially in the Far East where, for somewhat obscure reasons, he seems to be seen as some sort of a demi god. Especially in Japan.

The point being that Real don't need him on the field. Their crying need is for stiffening the defence and in that respect it is significant that they have coldly cast off their veteran captain and many times Spanish international centre back Fernando Hierro, for years past a bulwark and great favourite of the club, though in the season just finished, an increasing liability. Beckham it now seems will be used in central midfield, where he has still fully to establish himself, despite his preference for playing there, rather than on the right flank, where he makes such good use of his remarkable right foot. Portugal's Luis Figo, who does play there, is an enormously more gifted, versatile and effective right flanker than the limited Beckham could ever hope to be.

But if Beckham plays poorly — and the crowd could so easily get on his back — what could Real do? Drop him, and his image rights would surely be diminished. Keep him in the team and cause resentment among the other players and a general falling off of form. All this under the shadow of the callous recent dismissal of the team's manager Vicente del Bosque, so popular with both players and fans but never liked by the club's arrogant President, Florentino Perez: a man notoriously economical with the truth. He it was who publicly assured us that in his own words, never, never would Real bid for Beckham.

For Perez, Del Bosque, in his day an international midfielder with the club, and for many years a coach to the youth teams, was altogether too workaday a figure. Whatever the results Del Bosque achieved, they could never be enough for Perez who wanted elegance, flamboyance, though he does not quite have the ideal man he wanted in the shape of the new incumbent, the Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz. For David Beckham, who said he was shocked when on his Far Eastern money making tour by the news that Del Bosque was out, the appointment of Queiroz, till now the assistant manager at Manchester United, has no doubt been reassuring.

You do wonder though to what extent Queiroz, who made his name as the highly successful manager of Portuguese youth teams which included, among others, Luis Figo, will be able to survive in a potentially turbulent situation. For, the Real players greatly liked and respected the modest, self-effacing but competent Del Bosque, as indeed did the ever volatile Real Madrid fans, who have already reacted angrily to Del Bosque's defenestration. It has been rumoured that Del Bosque's championing of the players' cause vis a vis the club was one other reason for his departure. Certainly Valdano seems glad to see him go; there were whispers that he might become the new manager himself, but he remains in his present office, an increasingly powerful figure.

Ronaldo, who himself emphasises that it took him a while to settle into the Real team, even after his achievements in the 2002 World Cup, has spoken kindly of Beckham but reflected that there could be initial difficulties in bedding down. Matters however would surely be helped by the amiable presence of Steve McManaman, still unable to find a regular place in the Real team, though he did so well in the semi-finals and final of the 2002 European Cup. At �60,000 a week, however, he hardly has cause to repine, and he has settled happily into life in Madrid in a way which may be beyond Beckham, an altogether less flout and lively character than the Liverpudlian winger. You do wonder whether having his demanding wife with him may cut him off from the Spanish life around him and it is hard to imagine him learning Spanish as McManaman has one and as Gary Lineker so successfully did when he was playing for Barcelona. Truth to tell, Beckham's English is hardly exceptional.

Figo is another player to have spoken warmly of him in private though there are tales that in private he is not so happy at Beckham's coming. Certainly, the young goalkeeper Iker Casillas hasn't masked his disapproval, remarking that Beckham "is about marketing not playing," and embellishing his sentiments on television with an obscenity or two. Nor has Beckham's transfer gladdened the heart of Guti, like Casillas, a player developed by the club, and one who quickly realised that if Beckham were to play in central midfield, his was the position, which would be under threat. A former striker turned midfielder, Guti seemed resigned to having to move on.

Then there is the energetic and unselfish French international midfielder Claude Makelele, whose absence through injury had much to do with Real's struggles in the later stages of the Primiera Liga. He has been an absolutely essential figure in the team, but though Beckham hasn't had anything obvious to do with it, he has somewhat surprisingly suggested a wish to seek pastures new. Real could hardly afford that.