Beckham faces difficult future

David Beckham insists he is still living a dream at Real Madrid even if the long-term fear must be that his move from Manchester United will turn into a nightmare.

The England captain thought there had been a "slight improvement" in his performance against Real Mallorca in Sunday night's 2-1 Spanish Super Cup first leg defeat. The single star he was offered by the majority of an ultra-critical Spanish media backed him up - in contrast to the blanket zero rating which greeted his first match in Spain.

However, the admission of Real's new coach, Carlos Queiroz, that he needed "experience" in central midfield after Mallorca's second goal at the start of the second half was a damning indictment of Beckham's defensive qualities.

What Queiroz failed to explain was why he offered Beckham only one set-piece during the 55 minutes the England captain was on the pitch. The single corner Beckham was entrusted with resulted in Real's only goal, after 19 minutes, Luis Figo taking a far-post delivery down on his chest before lashing a volley into the net.

After that, Figo took all the corners, just as Roberto Carlos took all the free-kicks. Given that Beckham is widely acknowledged to be the best crosser of a ball in the world, it seemed a bizarre decision. Not as strange, though, as the selection of Beckham in what was effectively a midfield holding role, and there was almost unanimous recognition that it is not a position from which Beckham can hope to have any impact in La Liga

"I enjoyed playing in that position because I got a little bit more of the ball," Beckham said. "I also helped to set up the first goal, which was pleasing, but overall I am not very happy."

Tomorrow's second leg of the Mallorca match should mark Beckham's Bernabeu debut as a Madrid player and, given the £25m splashed out to sign him this summer, it is inconceivable that he will not play a part.

The much-rumoured arrival of Roberto Ayala from Valencia would help strengthen Real's rocky rearguard, but they still need support from midfield, which might see five superstars vying for four places.

Given that Raul is untouchable and Zinedine Zidane undroppable, the odds reduce to two from three and Figo has long been a darling of Queiroz.

That leaves three options. Either Queiroz persists with his five stars, or he drops an overweight Ronaldo and pushes Zidane forward: or he leaves Beckham on the bench.

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