How glamorous will the Real world be for the Beckhams?

FROM the beautiful offices of Hola! magazine to the gardeners manicuring the turf of El Bernabeu football stadium, there seemed only one topic of conversation in Madrid recently — the imminent arrival of the man the press was calling Spa in's new king — El Rey Beckham.

JULIA LLEWELLYN SMITH

English soccer star David Beckham laughs upon seeing No. 11 and his name on the back of the Real Madrid uniform . — Pic. AP-Pic. AP

FROM the beautiful offices of Hola! magazine to the gardeners manicuring the turf of El Bernabeu football stadium, there seemed only one topic of conversation in Madrid recently — the imminent arrival of the man the press was calling Spain's new king — El Rey Beckham.

His consort, Victoria, or La Spice Pija as she is known locally, is not thought to have visited Madrid since her husband's transfer talks with Real Madrid began. Still, it was generally agreed, she would adore the Spanish capital for its designer shops and electric nightlife.

Yet in the marble and colonnaded mansions of David Beckham's new team-mates, the mood was decidedly less welcoming. The footballers and their wives are furious at the media frenzy that has surrounded the arrival of "Goldenballs'', complaining that it eclipsed the vital match against Athletic Bilbao.

A close friend of Luis Figo, one of Real Madrid's many star players, and his Swedish wife, the former model Helene Svedin, says: "Beckham apologised to the players for all the fuss, but there are still really hostile feelings towards him. I think most of the team are going to make things as hard for them as possible when they arrive.''

After the team's training session, Steve McManaman, Beckham's friend and former England team-mate, said that most of the players have been "doorstepped'' by the press. "We've had people ringing on our doorbells. It's off-putting, really. There was nothing like this fuss when Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane arrived two years ago,'' he said before climbing into his BMW X5.

Although the Real squad are by far the most famous men in Spain the harassment that English Premier League players take for granted has come as an unpleasant shock. "Footballers in Spain are like British royalty 20 years ago,'' says Figo's friend. "Unless they step into the limelight, they are generally left alone.

"The Beckhams mix with film and pop stars, but here the different worlds just don't collide. Real players just do their jobs, pile up the money and keep their heads down. The idea of having dinner with Elizabeth Hurley would just bemuse them — as for braiding their hair and wearing sarongs, it would never happen! Like most Madrilenos, they dress smartly, but they don't follow high fashion and they have no intention of starting now.''

The players are fearful that constant media attention will mean an end to their generally relaxed way of life. According to Sue Turton, a Channel 4 sports correspondent, "Here, footballers can all come out of a nightclub at 4 a.m. and no one will take their picture or bother them. But once Beckham arrives all that is certain to change.''

On a typical day, most of Real's players get up between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. drive to the training ground for an hour's practice and are home in time for a long lunch at 2 p.m. Or, as McManaman puts it: "I get up, miss breakfast, drive to training, stagger around and go home.''

A siesta follows, then perhaps a round of golf or a swim in the pool, before changing for an evening out. After drinks and tapas in a bar, the players, like all Madrilenos, have dinner at about 10.30 p.m. rarely arriving home before 1 a.m. — or 4 a.m. after a match. McManaman says: "Here you can drink all night, have some break<147,1,7>fast and pick up your paper on the way home. As long as the team is winning, it's not a problem to go for a meal and have a few drinks after a game.''

But while the Beckhams like their meal to be at the fashionable London restaurant the Ivy, followed by digestifs with Elton John at Chinawhite, life for most of the Real team is more Brent Cross than Bond Street. The favourite haunt of Real's star trinity — Raul, Figo and Zidane, who on pounds 100,000 or more a week are higher earners than Beckham on pounds 90,000 — is the distinctly unglamorous Arturo Soria shopping mall five minutes' walk from their homes, where they drink coffee on the concrete sun terrace while their children, whom they walk home from school every day, play hide and seek between the tables.

As one local resident, Frances Jones, says: "No one hassles them, or even gives them a second glance. To take their photo would be considered the height of rudeness.''

Even younger, childless players such as McManaman and Ronaldo, his best friend and neighbour in the Stepfordian suburb of La Moraleja, avoid the neon lights of the city centre, in favour of elegant restaurants such as Fortuny, in Salamanca, Madrid's Mayfair, where diners talk quietly in a leafy courtyard and where the chances of encountering an aspiring Page Three girl in search of a kiss-and-tell victim are as remote as Burnley winning the European Cup.

Indeed, whenever a Real player has looked in danger of mixing in dangerously racy circles, the management has quickly stepped in to find him more suitable escorts. "There was a time when Raul and Guti (Jose Maria Gutierrez) were becoming real party boys and Guti in particular was worrying everyone by going out with a transsexual actress, called Bibi Fernandez. So the club began introducing them to girls of quality breeding — basically it found them wives,'' says Figo's friend. Raul quickly married Mamen Sanz, a well-bred model, while Guti was paired off with Arancha de Benito, a children's television presenter and scion of one of the oldest families in Spain whose ex-boyfriend was the nephew of the president of Argentina. Now the couple are separated. "If any scandal surrounds Madrid it's about Guti, who is a bit effeminate for some people, but even then it's mild by British standards,'' explains Ines Gomez, a Spanish gossip writer, as she sips coffee at a pavement table on Calle Serrano, Madrid's Bond Street, and a surefire favourite future haunt of Victoria Beckham.

Unlike Mrs Beckham, few of the players' wives dabble in more than part-time work. "Figo's wife is a Swedish model, but she gave it all up to have kids, while Zidane's wife, who used to be a flamenco dancer, did the same,'' Gomez explains. "I don't think they'd really approve of a woman like Victoria, who always seems to be in the spotlight.'' Many are already unhappy that Ronaldo's wife, another former model, Milene Domingues, spends most weekends away from her husband and son, Ronald, to play professional football for a Milan Club, Fiammamonza.

Another Victoria, McManaman's 27-year-old wife, is a law lecturer at Madrid University, but friends say that an alliance with her popstar namesake is unlikely. "Their husbands may be friends, but the two Victorias have absolutely nothing in common,'' one friend explains. "Ours likes to keep an extremely low profile and she's not at all happy at the disruption the Beckhams will bring to her life.''

The McManamans have made impressive efforts to learn Spanish, with the result that — despite his almost permanent presence on the substitutes' bench — he is one of Real's most popular players both with the fans and in the club. "I'm sure the Beckhams think everyone will speak English, but they don't. Unless they learn Spanish well, the Beckhams will feel very isolated. All the other footballers and their wives speak it fluently and without it, they'll have no idea what's going on in the dressing room or at social events,'' says Mrs McManaman's friend.

The Beckhams' sons, however, are expected to attend English-speaking schools, with favourite candidates including Numont, in Conde de Orgaz for Romeo ("Paparazzi are already hanging around outside,'' complained one mother), and Hastings College — with its high walls for maximum security — near the Bernabeu for Brooklyn. "Everyone's been saying that Brooklyn will go to the British international school Runnymede College, but the expats all think that's highly unlikely. The grounds are far too exposed,'' says the same mother.

The McManamans and the Ronaldos, as well as their team-mate Roberto Carlos and his family, all live in La Moraleja, Madrid's Beverly Hills, a soulless upmarket housing development, just off the M30 motorway, whose other residents include Pedro Almodovar, the film director, and Penelope Cruz, the actress. Here the sound is the throb of Cherokee Jeep engines and the hissing of lawn sprinklers, while the only pedestrians are the chicas — or Ecuadorean maids — who service the vast mansions covered in security cameras and hidden behind electric gates.

"It's a wonderful place to live,'' enthuses one expatriate wife. "We call it `Little England' because you can live here for years and not need a word of Spanish. Private security guards patrol the area all day, there's a Starbucks and loads of American bars, a Holmes Place gym where we all hang out and a mall, which has everything from Zara at the cheap end to boutiques selling Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. If you live here you need never go in to Madrid at all.''

Other players, looking for a slightly more authentic atmosphere, have settled for the slightly smaller mansions of Conde de Orgaz, a leafy suburb close to the airport. "Raul actually used to live out of town, but his grounds were so enormous that two years ago one of his children got lost in them for a whole day,'' says a friend. "After that his wife freaked out and demanded they move into something more modest and nearer the city centre. His house is still huge, but it's not at all flashy — nothing like Beckingham Palace.'' Yet despite the fact that Conde de Orgaz reportedly has its own helicopter pad, the Beckhams, it seems, have settled on a pounds 2 million house in La Florida, a tiny, gated community just over 10 miles northwest of the city, which borders the Spanish royal family's Zarazuela estate. "It sits on a plateau, so it's very green. The atmosphere is old money, compared with La Moraleja, which is completely nouveau. It has huge grounds which will make security easier and it's very close to Real's training ground for next season,'' says Gomez.

"That's the good news. The bad news is it's been lying empty for 12 years and it's going to need pounds 350,000 worth of work on it. Even more baffling, the Beckhams have never actually seen the property — they just got one of their people to choose it. But strangest of all, it's about as far away as you can get from the airport and there's no airfield nearby, which is potentially a huge problem. I think that when the Beckhams find out how alien life will be out here, they'll be going back to England on the first available flight.''

Copyright, The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2003