Real chief apologises for slur on Beckham

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The Independent Football

David Beckham yesterday received an apology from the Real Madrid president, Ramon Calderon, and was given a clear indication that he may not have played his last game for the club.

Calderon called Beckham a "half-baked" actor, and talked of the "vanity" and "ego" of Real Madrid's players in an address to university students on Tuesday. But after the off-the-record comments were broadcast he was forced into a 90-minute clear-the-air meeting with the playing staff.

Furious players are believed to have lambasted the president, who claims his comments had been taken out of context. Following the apology from Calderon, the first-team coach, Fabio Capello, appeared to soften his line on whether or not Beckham will play again for Real Madrid before his move to the Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy.

Capello was asked if Real Madrid needed Beckham later in the season would they maintain their tough line and refuse to play him regardless of the circumstances. Capello said: "You can't rule anything out. Ideas can change, it depends on the player it doesn't just depend on the club. I've always said that he is a great professional. All the players trained together today without problems. It was a fantastic training session."

The wisdom of Real's decision to exile Beckham has looked increasingly absurd. At the weekend Capello preferred to put the injured Brazilian midfielder Emerson on the bench ahead of a fully fit Beckham. And yesterday the club's own fans cited the example of Henrik Larsson as a player who continued to give good service after signing for another team.

Larsson played a big part in Barcelona's success last season, scoring in the Champions' League Final, despite having committed himself to Swedish club Helsingborg the previous January.

The Beckham camp are still fuming at the way Real Madrid have claimed this week that their player had already signed a contract and bought a house in Los Angeles while still telling the club he wanted to stay in Madrid and for claiming that no other team wanted Beckham despite several clubs publicly declaring their interest.

Capello's comments will go some way to healing the relationship between the two sides although Beckham will not feature in tonight's Spanish Cup match with Real Betis.

Ronaldo will also be missing as the player continues to try to negotiate a move away from the Bernabeu. The player has agreed personal terms with Milan, but Real Madrid are demanding a fee for the 29-year-old, whose contract runs out in 2008, and the Italian giants are only interested in a free-transfer. The Milan vice-president, Adriano Galliani, remains confident of getting his man. He said: "There is this possibility and I cannot deny it. We are waiting to see what Real Madrid say."

Madrid's 16-player squad for today's Cup match also lacked the forward Antonio Cassano, whom Capello has also declared surplus to requirements.

With the captain, Raul Gonzalez, and the Brazilian quartet of Roberto Carlos, Emerson, Marcelo and Cicinho among seven injured players, Capello has included reserves - the defender Miguel Torres, and the midfielders Miguel Nieto and Ruben De La Red - for the game at the Bernabeu.

Last week's first leg of the fifth-round pairing ended scoreless. The winner will advance to the quarter-finals of Spain's knock-out competition.