Beckham is delivered to new agent (courtesy of his wife)

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The Independent Online

Victoria Beckham has delivered her husband David to her management guru Simon Fuller as part of an extraordinary tug-of-war over the rights to publicise Britain's most famous footballer.

The wrangle involves some of the biggest names in Britain's public relations industry who are competing for the attentions of the two halves of the nation's most publicised pairing.

The Independent understands the former Spice Girl has persuaded the England captain that the couple's promotional work can best be handled as a single entity by Fuller's company 19 Entertainment.

The value of the rights to "Brand it Like Beckham" are immense, with the player already earning £15m a year in sponsorship deals with companies including Adidas (£3m), Marks & Spencer (£3m for the DB07 range), Police sunglasses (£1m) and Vodafone (£1m).

But Mrs Beckham and Mr Fuller are anxious the couple are marketed together, after a recent tour of the Far East generated nearly £10m.

The singer has recently signed her own deal with New York hip-hop mogul Damon Dash to market the clothing label Roc-A-Wear.

The footballer had previously entrusted his promotional work to the sports agency SFX, which also represents Michael Owen, Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker.

Tony Stephens, who runs the SFX sports division, has advised Beckham since he was a young player and is described by the England captain as one of his "very closest friends".

But Victoria believes Mr Fuller, who propelled her to fame, can develop the Beckham brand on a global scale.

Last July, Mrs Beckham severed links with the Outside Organisation, one of Britain's best-known PR companies, to join 19 Entertainment in the hope that Mr Fuller could resurrect her ailing singing career.

Significantly, Caroline McAteer, the fearsome Ulsterwoman who represented her at Outside and became a family friend, also switched to 19. Ms McAteer, 30, who has a background in the music industry and has represented the singers George Michael and Ronan Keating, has come to be known as "The Voice of the Beckhams".

It was Ms McAteer who shocked the PR world on Tuesday night, when she issued a statement in the name of the England captain.

"David Beckham has today confirmed he has parted company with the SFX sports group," it said.

"His contract was due for renewal and he has decided, with the European Championships and a busy year in Madrid, he will be focusing entirely on football and not taking on any new commercial activity in the short term - except as part of his club commitments. He will continue to work with his current sponsors."

The statement said Mr Stephens would continue to act as Beckham's football agent but raised questions about the future of the reclusive adviser, who has been one of the most influential figures in the England captain's career.

Mr Stephens is credited with the PR success that, last week, helped extricate Beckham from the angry public response to the threat of strike action from the England team before their game with Turkey in Istanbul. The captain gave a press conference at which he promised the players would show pride in the England shirt.

SFX, which said it was "very surprised" by the statement issued by Ms McAteer, issued its own release yesterday to shore up its relationship with Mr Stephens, amid rumours that Mr Fuller might try to persuade him to jump ship.

"SFX has confirmed that Tony Stephens remains totally committed to SFX and that the England captain and Real Madrid player David Beckham continues to be a client and under contract to SFX," it said.

Mr Stephens himself issued his own statement: "Six weeks ago, I signed a new three-and-a-half-year contract with SFX which means that any work that I do with any SFX clients can only be conducted through SFX and I intend to honour that contract," he announced

Despite the squabble between London's celebrity PRs, the suggestion that Beckham wants to drop his publicity work will have been warmly received in Madrid, where many believe the footballer's high-profile life might affect his on-pitch performance. Just as in Istanbul, it appears that "Goldenballs" emerges from the row with another publicity triumph.

THE INNER-CIRCLE

DAVID BECKHAM
Britain's most famous footballer and one half of the nation's most publicised couple. Beckham, 28, already earns endorsements worth about £15m a year from deals with such brands as Adidas, Pepsi, Marks & Spencer and Vodafone. He recently earned £1.5m for his autobiography.

VICTORIA BECKHAM
The former Posh Spice rose to prominence as a member of Britain's most-successful girl band. She is now most famous for being Mrs Beckham, the mother of Brooklyn and Romeo. She accompanied David on a promotional tour to the Far East and is now trying to revive her singing career.

SIMON FULLER
First managed Victoria Beckham when he was the man behind the Spice Girls. He also dreamt up Pop Idol. Fuller, 43, is trying to resurrect Ms Beckham's career through his company 19 Entertainment, which will also market the "Beckham" brand around the world.

ALAN EDWARDS
Boss of the Outside Organisation. He took on the management of the Spice Girls in 1997 and Victoria Beckham joined his client list alongside such names as David Bowie, George Michael and Robbie Williams.

CAROLINE McATEER
Represented Victoria at the Outside Organisation until July when both she and Posh switched to the Fuller camp. McAteer, 30, is the official "Voice of the Beckhams". Described by the website Popbitch as "the devil woman publicist", she has a fearsome reputation for intimidating journalists.

TONY STEPHENS
The football agent who helped Beckham develop from a young player to the biggest name in the English game. Stephens pre-dates Beckham's relationship with Victoria. He says Stephens knows him "better than anyone else in the world". Stephens is contracted to SFX sports agency.

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