The Thing Is: Will DB07 survive a Beckham transfer?

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The Independent Online

That David Beckham is a good footballer is not in dispute, and few are the people who can bend a ball like him. But his transfer from Manchester United - who have set a £30m price tag - to Barcelona, Real Madrid or any of the other big continental clubs is as much about money as his skills.

Since his nadir in 1998, when Beckham was rounded on for England's exit from the World Cup, he has been reborn. In the following year, he become a father, married his pop star girlfriend and won the treble with Manchester United. He has become a fashion icon and a devoted family man, and his resurrection was sealed last year with that penalty against Argentina.

In the meantime, he has become a powerful brand in his own right. He earns £90,000 a week at Manchester United, £20,000 of which covers his image rights. On top of that, he is estimated to rake in around £11m through personal sponsorship deals. Currently he endorses Vodafone, Pepsi, Marks & Spencer's DB07 boys' range, Castrol motor oil in the Far East, and Adidas, which stitches the names of his sons on his boots.

All these companies maintain they are relaxed about his move, with a Vodafone spokeswoman summing it up: "Whether he plays for Man U or a club in Europe, it makes no difference to us." Beneath the surface, however, they might not be so sanguine. The biggest headache will arguably be suffered by M&S and the DB07 range. Not only did the company close its Spanish stores a couple of years ago but there is no guarantee he will play in the number seven shirt at his new club (Real Madrid's seven is local hero Raul).

Analysts remain relatively unfussed, though. Beckham will continue to play in the number seven shirt for England, and while Brewin Dolphin's Tim Green concedes that there could be some impact on DB07 sales, he believes the hype surrounding the move could counter that.

Manchester United's sponsors are equally unfazed. As well as its deal with Beckham, Vodafone is three years through a four-year deal with the club. The mobile phone operator has yet to decide if it will extend this, but the spokeswoman insists the transfer furore is not a factor: "Man U is bigger than David Beckham and, with or without, they will still get the TV exposure and the same media coverage."

Manchester United could lose a chunk of merchandise-buying fans, particularly in the Far East. But with a fan base of 53 million worldwide and a possible transfer fee of £30m going straight into the bottom line - the club signed Beckham as a schoolboy - his departure is a hit they can take.

That £30m is likely to be money well spent by the club he signs for, since it will be recouped swiftly through extra merchandising and sponsorship. As one sports agent says: "The soap opera that has been played out over the last weeks just shows that he could be playing in Azerbaijan and he'd still get the column inches."

Barcelona, however, have another reason for securing Beckham as Joan Laporta courts the player in his bid to be elected president of the club. It comes down to shirts. Barcelona do not have a shirt sponsor and never have - they see themselves as the national Catalan team and do not want their kit "sullied" with the name of a sponsor. But increasingly it has been recognised that the big gap between costs and revenues needs to be addressed, and Mr Laporta is particularly keen to secure a sponsor. Currently, Real Madrid's four-year deal with Siemens is worth between €10m (£7m) and €12m a year. Barcelona would see themselves on a par with that, and the arrival of Beckham - and the press entourage - could add an additional €2m to the price tag.