Beckham’s Future Still in Doubt
When David Beckham changes hairstyles, it’s front page news in England. So imagine the frenzy when the nation’s most famous sportsman was rumored to be getting ready to bolt for Spain.
After weeks of feverish speculation that he was set to leave Manchester United for Real Madrid, the soap opera has been put to rest -- for the time being.
“Never, never, never, never,” Real Madrid President Florentino Perez said of the prospect of the England captain and star midfielder joining his team. “Not now, not ever.”
“We have not spoken about David Beckham,” Perez added. “He has a contract with Manchester United. He is not even halfway through that contract. We are very happy with the players we have. That is the end of the matter.”
Real Madrid also issued a statement on its Web site denying any approach for Beckham, perhaps the world’s most marketable soccer player.
“Despite the speculation surrounding this issue, Madrid have no intention of negotiating the transfer of Mr. Beckham,” it said.
Those were the words Manchester United officials wanted to hear.
“I am delighted Mr. Perez has confirmed this in such an emphatic matter, but anyway, we at Manchester United never had any intention of selling him,” Chief Executive Peter Kenyon said. “I’m also assured by David’s people that they don’t want him to leave Manchester United.”
Not everyone is convinced Beckham won’t be wearing the famous white shirt of Real Madrid next season.
“Who you kidding?” screamed the back-page headline in The Sun. “It’s Unreal” said the Mirror.
The reason for the doubts: Real Madrid made similar official denials in the past about big-name transfers that eventually came to pass.
In August, the club denied it had any intention of signing Ronaldo, only to have the Brazilian star complete a multimillion-dollar transfer from Inter Milan three weeks later.
The same thing happened before French star Zinedine Zidane joined Madrid from Juventus in 2001 for a world record $65 million transfer fee.
Real’s official denial came on the same day Beckham’s high-profile wife Victoria, a former Spice Girl, appeared to hint the couple and their two young sons -- Brooklyn and Romeo -- were indeed leaving England.
Appearing in New York, she was asked whether the family planned such a move in the near future.
“I was wondering who was going to ask me that. I can’t possibly answer,” she said, but then gave an emphatic nod of the head and flashed a wide smile.
Victoria Beckham is widely reported to be eager to leave Manchester for a more glamorous locale. Milan, the Italian fashion capital, has been mentioned as another possible destination. Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti has made no secret of his desire to sign Beckham.
Beckham, who turned 28 on Friday, signed a contract extension last year that keeps him at Manchester United until June 30, 2005. But he has never ruled out moving to Madrid, repeatedly saying he is honored to be linked with the club.
Speculation over Beckham’s future started months ago but went into overdrive after Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson dropped him to the bench for the Premier League showdown against Arsenal on April 16 and the Champions League quarterfinal against Real Madrid a week later.
Beckham came on in the second half against Madrid and scored two goals as Manchester United won the game 4-3 but went out 6-5 on aggregate over two games. Photos of a bare-chested Beckham saluting the Manchester crowd after the game -- in what many considered a farewell gesture -- were splashed across front pages.
The next day Beckham went shopping, spending a reported $15,900 at a Giorgio Armani store in Manchester. This, too, received huge coverage as papers suggested Beckham’s public appearance was his way of getting back at Ferguson for being benched.
After a 2-0 loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup two months ago, a furious Ferguson kicked a shoe that flew and hit Beckham in the face. Rather than staying out of the public eye and away from the media, Beckham went out the next day and was photographed with stitches above his eye.
Beckham has had a stormy relationship with Ferguson, a no-nonsense Scotsman who clearly does not appreciate his player’s showbiz lifestyle and celebrity status.
While fans of rival English clubs might be happy to see Beckham go, Manchester United supporters would be devastated. The British media, which devotes more coverage to Beckham and his wife than any other celebrity couple, would suffer without their favorite pop icon.
A move abroad could also hurt Beckham’s standing with the national team. England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson would be unlikely to keep Beckham as captain if he is not playing regularly with or against other members of the England team in the Premier League.
Yet even if Beckham does join Real Madrid, it’s uncertain whether he could break into the starting lineup of the nine-time European champion.
Madrid’s lineup already features Ronaldo, Zidane, Portuguese midfielder Luis Figo, Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos and Spanish striker Raul Gonzalez.
Beckham, who is paid a reported $143,000 a week at Manchester United, might need to take a salary cut to play in Spain.
For Real Madrid, Beckham may represent more of a marketing coup than anything else. He would help boost Real Madrid’s commercial opportunities in Asia, where Beckham has a huge fan base.
Beckham is worth $79.5 million, according to a survey of Britain’s richest people published last weekend in The Sunday Times.
He has a myriad of endorsement and sponsorship deals and is featured on billboard and magazine covers around much of the world.
But he’s not yet a household name in the United States.
The British film “Bend it Like Beckham” -- the title is based on his trademark ability to curl a free kick over a wall of defenders into the net -- may be a sleeper hit in America but many filmgoers have no idea who Beckham is.
All that could change when Manchester United makes a four-game preseason tour of the United States this summer with games in Seattle, Los Angeles, East Rutherford, N.J., and Philadelphia.
Manchester United, the world’s richest and most popular soccer team, is determined to crack the U.S. market.
Without pinup boy Beckham, however, the tour would be a tough sell.
“We accept he is the most recognized footballer in the world, perhaps the most recognized person,” said Kenyon. “So yes, he is important to us. And that’s the reason we’re going to keep him.”