The flower behind the ear and the tight pink shorts have replaced the sarong and the hair-band, and this time it was a moody sulk on the touchline from the player as opposed to a flying boot from the manager, but make no mistake Cristiano Ronaldo's move from Manchester United to Real Madrid has David Beckham's switch to Spain written all over it.
That probably explains why last night Real fans were tempering the euphoria with a sobering dose of "remember when". Beckham joined in July 2003 and Madrid went three years without winning a trophy.
Ronaldo becomes Real's second signing this summer after the capture of Kaka. The club should also shortly secure the services of David Villa from Valencia and sporting director Jorge Valdano has already confirmed that the excellent Argentine Gonzalo Higuain will also have a major part to play next season. Those are four attacking superstars to rival the Beckham, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo combination that Florentino Perez had assembled in 2003.
Perez is now responsible for the four most expensive signings in history – Kaka, Ronaldo, Zidane and Figo – but just as the so-called galacticos failed to deliver on the pitch, the "new" galacticos are no guarantee of success. The brilliance of Barcelona, the strain of too many off-the-field commitments and the lack of a strong coach invested with the power to make decisions, were the undoing of the last project – six years later the same demons threaten Perez's plans.
Barcelona have just won the treble and they did it with seven products of their youth system – players who have been playing together since they were young teenagers. You can buy the best players in the world; buying a team is not so easy. The Barça side that beat Manchester United in the final had a combined price of £54m – considerably less than the sums Perez has spent on his first two signings.
In 2003 Real's mistake was to sign Beckham instead of Ronaldinho, with one board member famously commenting that the Brazilian was "too ugly" for Madrid's global marketing campaign. The unacceptable face of football he may have been, but he soon got Barça playing the beautiful game and they won two leagues and a Champions League. Ronaldo is a more decisive player than Beckham was but he was still no match for Barcelona's team-work in Rome.
In Beckham's first season it was Rafa Benitez's Valencia who came from nowhere to take La Liga. An energy-sapping tour of the Far East replaced the thorough pre-season that then-coach Carlos Quieroz wanted and by February legs were buckling beneath his expensive players, turning a potential treble into a trophyless season. Perez is yet to announce pre-season plans but he hasn't brought two Ferraris to keep them locked up in the garage.
"When we had Figo, Zidane Ronaldo and Beckham we once earned €15m for playing two games in Japan," Perez said. The same punishing schedule of commercial commitments now awaits. It has to, because that is how Perez will have assured his lenders that they will see a return on their money. "There are certain players who are profitable because they have spectacular commercial repercussions that bring in revenue," he said.
The astronomical outlay will be paid for by sponsors, who will want their pound of flesh. Tours will eat into pre-season and players being excused from training to fulfil commercial commitments will be common place once more. Football will at times become secondary and if the coach complains he will be replaced.
Manuel Pellegrini is the man who will have the enviable job of building a team around Ronaldo and Kaka and the unenviable task of building a training schedule around their marketing commitments. Perez hired and fired six coaches in his last stint, although the appointment of Pellegrini does suggest he has learned some lessons. The Villarreal coach has a proven track record, a healthy relationship with Valdano and a reputation for good football and the expert handling of big egos.
Fans are cautiously excited – 70 per cent of 30,000 polled by Marca yesterday said they believed Ronaldo would be a success... but 80 per cent said the club had paid too much.
Perez added: "When Beckham came we went from earning €7m a year to €45m a year. We salvaged the situation of the club." The president knows his new signing can emulate the former England captain off the pitch. Real fans are just hoping he doesn't emulate him on it as well.Reuse content