David Beckham has dispelled his image among Spaniards as just a pretty face and fashion clothes horse and is being hailed by his peers as a committed and inspired footballer.
A month into the season, both Real Madrid team-mates and rivals concede that the England captain initially dubbed "Spice Boy" by a sceptical Spanish media is throwing himself wholeheartedly into his game. "You can see he's making an effort," said Capi, the Real Betis striker. "Perhaps he's trying to show people that he's not just a footballer for the marketing men."
A fellow Real Madrid player is astonished by Beckham's ability to cover the ground: "Beckham is the one who runs the most. At this rate he'll wear himself out running for the rest of us." The club's latest statistical analyses confirm the impression: Beckham runs more kilometres per match than any other player.
"Fans at the Bernabeu watch in awe as Beckham assumes the role of 'captain general'," wrote Diego Torres, Real correspondent for El Pais newspaper yesterday. "He organises, he helps out in attack and defence, he is physical and he knows how to show his effort. When he heads for the showers, his jersey is covered with mud and green streaks."
Beckham, who arrived last month with the aura of a movie star, is an industrious worker, Torres concludes. Carlos Queiroz, his coach, who worked with him at Manchester United says: "He's a born runner, a fighter." But Spanish football observers believe, none the less, that Beckham's strategy is deliberate: he thinks fans will love him more if he plays his heart out, and he is, they say, desperate to please.
Beckham's physical stamina impresses even Real Madrid's doctors. He lacks Ronaldo's explosive power of acceleration, they say, but needs only a minute to recover a normal heartbeat after a burst of effort.
Press interest, however, complicates Beckham's life. British newspapers criticised Beckham for arriving back at his hotel after midnight three times in the last fortnight, El Mundo complained incredulously yesterday: "Last Sunday, we learn, he was out drinking until four in the morning with his team-mates and 'a group of girls!' "
El Mundo made it clear that Spaniards consider such behaviour completely normal.
Spaniards see Beckham adapting to Madrid, on and off the pitch, and love him for it.
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