It takes a lot for an individual to upstage the world's best football team, but David Beckham managed the feat effortlessly yesterday, with a major assist from British television. Beckham's debut for Real Madrid, in a friendly against a Chinese select team, the Dragons, in Beijing was correctly deemed "very, very satisfactory" by the ITV studio mandarin, Ron Atkinson.
Though Beckham did not score in Real's 4-0 win, three of the goals coming in the final quarter of an hour following his substitution, the England captain uncorked a couple of vintage free-kicks and an increasing number of those glorious long passes to show he can become an integral part of Madrid's season.
That season does not begin in earnest until the end of this month, by which time the Beckham hype will either have ebbed to mere hysteria or soared to new heights of frenzy. Take your pick. Certainly those in charge of promoting Real's four-match Asian tour have turned the occasion into a one-man show, with Beckham's face thrust to the fore ahead of longer-serving Madrid lags such as Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo, Raul and Roberto Carlos.
Having been shown the way, television eagerly seized the baton. ITV2's coverage of the match from a packed 60,000 Workers' Stadium was titled "Beckham Live: Real Madrid's tour of the Far East". We were informed "Beckham's new life starts today" as the teams came out, to be presented with bouquets by pretty girls.
This choreographed ceremony dissolved into anarchy as the flower holders made a beeline for Our Boy, swarming around him and almost burying him under a mound of wrapped posies. Beckham took it as good-naturedly as ever before the flower girls were replaced by a gaggle of uniformed nurses in search of a photo opportunity. But as Beckham commented beforehand: "It's an honour that people are cheering me on".
And so to the match, Beckham's first since 22 May, when he broke a bone in his hand playing for England in South Africa. As widely predicted, he played on the right side of midfield, with Luis Figo switching to the left, a realistic move by Real's new coach, Carlos Queiroz, since the Portuguese is good with his left foot and Beckham isn't.
Perhaps suppressing the urge to gawp, Beckham was content early on to knock short, safe passes to the likes of Zidane, Figo and Raul and watch them work their magic as Real effortlessly dominated possession. Roberto Carlo hit the base of a post with a vicious dipper and Ronaldo's effort from the rebound was deflected wide before, to an almost audible flourish of trumpets, Madrid won their first free-kick after 19 minutes.
It was not quite in acknowledged Beckham territory, so would Roberto Carlos take it, or perhaps Figo? Not a chance. As the wall of China was slowly sorted, Beckham patiently waited before curling his effort over that wall and demanding a double-fisted, diving save from Sun Gang. "Different shirt, different setting, same weapon," said commentator Clive Tyldesley.
Not for the first time in their recent history, Real looked wobbly at the heart of defence with Hierro retired, and Ronaldo, still a candidate for the slimming clinic, fluffed a headable goal chance before the second free-kick arrived, prompted by one of Figo's trademark dives. Roberto Carlos marked out his long, direct run-up, but this one was undeniably in Beckham territory, and the man in the No 23 shirt duly took it, curling the ball a foot wide of the near post.
Javier Clemente, once Spain's manager, has labelled the Beckham signing a mistake by Madrid, but already it looked far from that, and perhaps Clemente should concentrate on the wearying demands of his new job, coaching Barcelona's inferior and perennially struggling second club, Espanyol.
Figo having put Real in front three minutes before half-time following an inspired first-time pass from Zidane and a cross by Ronaldo, Beckham expanded his repertoire after the interval, uncorking some of his glorious long passes with the pinpoint accuracy of an American quarterback. One left Ronaldo clear, but the best the Brazilian could manage was a scuffed cross-shot well wide.
A lovely centre was just missed by Figo's bicycle kick, and then another 50-yard ball to the substitute, Santiago Solari, set up a chance for Raul. With 72 minutes gone, Beckham made a quiet, almost unnoticed exit, heading for the dug-out to sit in quality company alongside the likes of Figo, Ronaldo and Zidane, who had already been offered their breather.
Fernando Morientes, twice, and Javier Portillo imposed a harsh defeat on the Chinese with a late flurry, but the home players were not downhearted. They jostled to have their photo taken with guess who? And he, of course, smiled for the cameras before politely thanking his new team-mates for making his first match "a comfortable and enjoyable experience".Reuse content