David Beckham arrived early for his first day at work with Real Madrid yesterday, swinging into the club's training ground north of the city at the wheel of a dark Audi at 8.36am.
The England captain, wearing a blue T-shirt, smiled faintly, but neither stopped nor spoke, a pattern he maintained all day to the disappointment of dozens of journalists who swarmed around him.
He removed his dark baseball cap once inside the ground, revealing a hairdo no more revolutionary than his streaked, summer holiday ponytail.
A clutch of fans goggled at the starry cavalcade of team-mates that followed, but, to judge from their shirts, Figo and Raul were their favourites.
The team underwent simple medical tests after four weeks' rest, ahead of their flight yesterday afternoon to Kumming in China, the first stop on the club's promotional tour of the Far East. Their first fixture is on 2 August in Beijing against Dragon Team, with Beckham expected to make his debut in his No 23 shirt. The last game will be in Bangkok on 10 August.
Two hours after mustering at the training ground, the players jumped into their limousines and left. Beckham stopped briefly for the cameras, then hurried to his car with his anxious-looking Australian-Spanish guide, Andy Bernal, and drove away without a word. Bernal, a former footballer, is reported to have been assigned by the SFX company, Beckham's agents, to help the Beckham family settle in the city.
Beckham's first meeting with his team-mates was "very normal, nothing special to report," said Real's technical director, Jorge Valdano. "They're football people. Football is a universal language. Beckham is a calm player, even timid. There's not much difference between seeing Beckham in the dressing-room or [reserve defender] Borja."
Pressed for details on Beckham's fitness, Valdano said he was in perfect condition. "I understand journalists' interest in Beckham, but we have 25 players and what's important is that they are all fit... Beckham is physically privileged, and what's needed now is his technical integration into the group."
Steve McManaman, who was also picked for the Asia tour, chatted to journalists desperate for snippets about Beckham. "I think David will settle down well because he knows Carlos Queiroz from Manchester, and he speaks English," McManaman said. Queiroz was No 2 at United before replacing Vicente del Bosque at Real last month.
The tour aims to get close to Asian fans and project the club's image, Valdano said, adding: "Our vocation is to become universal. That's an important strategy." They play FC Tokyo on 5 August and China's national team in Hong Kong on 8 August.
Real's training ground, which was sold off to developers to expunge the club's debt, is already partially excavated by bulldozers. When players return for the league season, which begins on 31 August, they will train in the Madrid suburb of Las Rozas so Beckham's first step on this hallowed patch was also probably his last.Reuse content