David Beckham's last appearance here was to play football and in April's European Cup quarter-final he proved something of a disappointment. Today he returns for a medical and tomorrow's signing ceremony, where the objective will be merely to say the right things and sell plenty of white shirts. Beckham should prove rather more adept at that.
The plane carrying the world's most famous footballer is scheduled to arrive at El Torrejon, a military airbase near the Spanish capital, this morning, when he will be driven under police escort for a three-hour medical that will be filmed by Real Madrid's television station for sale to Japan, whose appetite for all things Beckhamesque extends even to the sight of their hero undergoing deep-breathing exercises.
Real did the same when signing Ronaldo, whose medical was rather more intense, focusing on the knee injury which had rendered him almost useless for three seasons with Internazionale.
It is a measure of Beckham's standing that pre-orders for his shirts outstripped those for Ronaldo last year by two to one - and Ronaldo sold a million of them. Real hope the advertising from the signing ceremony alone will raise £2m of the £25m fee agreed with Manchester United.
More pertinently for Beckham's long-term future with the Spanish champions, Real's deposed manager, Vicente del Bosque, who is believed to have been at best neutral towards his signing and at worst opposed, wished him well in his first interview since his sacking.
Speaking to Marca, Del Bosque was more aggrieved that he had been dismissed without being allowed a farewell press conference and had been informed of the board's decision "in the loneliness of a corridor at 11 o'clock at night" by Real's sporting director, Jorge Valdano. He also attacked as "unthinkable" the dismissal of Real's captain, Fernando Hierro, another who did not appreciate the moves to bring in Beckham.
Tomorrow at 12.30pm - to coincide with peak-time viewing in Japan - Beckham will be taken to the stadium owned by Real's basketball team where he will officially sign the four-year contract worth £18m and be presented with his snow-white shirt by Alfredo di Stefano, the honorary head of the club and, for all the hype surrounding Beckham and Ronaldo, the man who is still Real's greatest player. Curiously, given all the money riding on the shirt sales, it is unlikely that it will have a number on the back.
Much of this is to do with politics in the Bernabeu. The No 7 shirt is Raul's and, with Hierro's departure, he now runs the dressing-room completely, and has made his coolness towards Beckham known.
Hierro's No 4 shirt is, of course, available but the feeling is that it properly belongs to a central defender. Ronaldo has long had designs on Fernando Morientes' No 9 shirt, which the Spaniard has a contract entitling him to wear.
If Morientes is sold, Ronaldo's No 11 will become available, or Beckham could wear Steve McManaman's No 8 should Everton succeed in luring the former Liverpool player back to Merseyside.
There are no plans for Beckham, whose tours of America and the Far East have been designed to keep the British media at arm's length, to give a press conference in Madrid. He will be interviewed, not one assumes in any great depth, by Real's website and the responses will be posted tomorrow afternoon.
Apart from close-up views of the Beckham torso and tattoos, Japanese television will not be getting much for its money.
The only real concern of the club doctor, Juan Hernandez, is whether the broken wrist sustained against South Africa in May has mended. Because of limited blood supply, the scaphoid bone is a slow healer, but it is unlikely that Beckham would require an operation, although that too might open revenue-generating possibilities for Real, with all the procedures broadcast live and sponsors' logos displayed on the scalpels.Reuse content