For a week England have travelled the United States virtually incognito. Yesterday the circus arrived. In a thinly disguised commercial for the soccer school he will launch in Los Angeles later this week, David Beckham held court in Manhattan. The US press corps mushroomed from a handful to dozens, most of them toting cameras.
As the cameras flashed and snappers shouted "David, David, this way, this way," one American who covers the sport regularly groaned: "This is embarrassing on so many levels."
Beckham lapped it up. He smiled for the cameras, plugged his academy, and said all the right things. Would he like to play in America one day? "Maybe one day that could happen," he replied. "I love America. I've been on holiday many times here. Maybe I would play here." He said much the same to the Japanese in 2002.
More relevantly, Beckham reiterated his desire to stay in Madrid, where he presumably has come to terms with the paparazzi hounding his children. "Real Madrid is one of the biggest clubs in the world and I am happy there," he said, dismissing speculation linking him with Arsenal and others. "I want to finish my career there and that is the end of that. I have two years left on my contract and maybe in July we will start negotiating an extension."
Beckham is yet to win anything in two years with Real. So how did he react to watching Liverpool win the Champions' League? "I was proud not jealous," he said. "Even as a Manchester United fan I was personally proud as an Englishman. Everyone that watched it probably had goosebumps at the end when they saw Stevie [Gerrard] pick the trophy up. Any team that wins that competition deserves to win it."
Beckham was less clear on the subject of Malcolm Glazer, the American who has bought Manchester United. "Obviously he is putting a lot of money into Man United, so it can't be too much of a bad thing," he said. "I think the fans have shown how they feel about Glazer taking over, but Man United are a massive club. Whoever is involved they will always have the best players. They have a great manager and I'm sure the fans will be OK with it when they know what is actually happening and they are told what is going on."
Beckham said he had been recognised more while walking around New York than previously, something that clearly pleased him, but he insisted: "It is not about 'cracking America', it is about giving the kids an opportunity to go to a soccer academy like mine in LA."
After LA, Beckham's next stop will be Singapore where he will be supporting London's 2012 Olympic bid. With New York being a rival candidate city he was reluctant to be drawn on the subject but did say: "It's obviously a massive thing for me, a real honour."
It is not hard to see why London want him there. The reception Beckham received in this city underlined his global reach. Both the New York Post and New York Times have written about him this weekend and ESPN, the cable sports network, headlined Kieran Richardson's first goal against the US on Saturday "Bend it like Beckham".
As his former United team-mate Phil Neville said: "He is such a world star. You can be a star in England, but when you come to America you can be lost. But with David it is a different ball game. He is known throughout the world."
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