Beckham gets down to business and wins instant acclaim

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The Independent Football

David Beckham says his blood ran cold in the death throes of his Old Trafford career, such was the animus between him and Sir Alex Ferguson. But on Saturday night, more than an hour after the end of his joyous debut in La Liga for Real Madrid, it was the warm glow of adrenalin coursing through his veins.

Deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabeu, the sweat trickled down his features as he stood, patiently, to answer questions among the debris and building work which will expand further this famous stadium. Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo had all long gone and a demob-happy Steve McManaman had ceased his tomfoolery as Beckham talked of what the game and that delirious goal after just 126 seconds meant to him.

"Playing in this sort of atmosphere and with these players, you will learn things and that is my whole philosophy of being over here in Spain and playing in this league," he said. "I would like to play better football, and how better to do it than with these players."

He is now one of those players. One of those "galacticos". His place in their firmament is attained. The warm glow would have continued yesterday morning. "El Spice" may have only just had his first Spanish lesson last Friday - "it's going slowly," he admitted - but the verdicts took little translation. "Dinamico" and "Becks sera el numero uno" are quite clear to anyone. As was, in the sports newspaper Marca, words which placed Beckham in the galaxy of white-shirted legends. It was, according to the paper which had previously been harsh in its judgment after Beckham's first two games, a debut on the grand stage worthy of mention alongside Puskas, Di Stefano and "los grandes". Heady, heady stuff.

But then the "Madrilenos" want to like him. They have taken to "Becks", to "La Coleta" ("The ponytail"), to his wife Victoria and, especially to the sobriquet "Bolas De Ora" ("Goldenballs"). Even in the city which spawned Hello, this is a strange marriage of sport and celebrity - their two greatest passions. The Beckham bounce is felt from the bars to the designer stores clustered around Calle Serrano. They don't even expect him to live in Madrid all the time - why should he, they ask. It doesn't matter as long as he is here to work and play for the Merengues. While Barcelona is Spain's city of glamour, of posturing, Madrid, so those who live here claim, is the city that gets down to business - whether that business is work or simply pleasure.

Even the Bernabeu has a functionality to it, compared to the grand sweep of the Nou Camp. And so with Beckham restored again to the right flank he did what he does best. Working hard, tracking back - and hitting those crossfield diagonal passes as well as corners and free-kicks. "I always take responsibility on the field and that's the way I play," he said. "I work hard and try and create as many chances for players as possible."

It had a spectacular effect and no more so than in those first two minutes in which the four "Gods" - Zidane, Figo, Raul and Ronaldo - contrived to furnish a heavenly start. It may have simply been a tap-in but that was incidental to the dreamy smoothness which created it. Ronaldo's final ball meant that the Brazilian has now teed up both of Beckham's goals at the Bernabeu.

Zidane, however, was simply untouchable. He is, perhaps, too good even in this company. Who can play with him? Ronaldo is clearly the closest but the Frenchman's ability to find space, almost to expand time, is beyond compare. "The differences today were made by a player who doesn't have blonde hair - Zidane was the one who really hurt us," said Victor Fernandez, the coach of Real Betis afterwards. It was true. He added of Beckham: "He scored a goal, had a shot against the bar and he played well, but he's one of the best players in the world and the surprise would have been if he played badly." And that was true also. For the simple fact is that, despite all the Jeremiahs, Beckham is a good player who will improve here.

But how Madrid, despite the continual warnings, still need to improve their defending. The formidable Argentinian Roberto Ayala may come but it is as if defence is a black art which is beneath them. That is why the lamented Claude Makelele was paid a fifth of what the players around him received. As Betis - an industrious if unspectacular side - broke forward there were five white shirts still ambling around the halfway line. It looked more like schoolboy football.

The equalising goal was an embarrassment of poor marking and ineffective challenging, but the great leviathan stirred back into action. Beckham's 30-yard ball found Zidane and his cross was struck on the half-volley by Ronaldo. Betis threatened again and their young star, the winger Joaquin, began to impress. Iker Casillas was needed. "We suffered and it was all our fault," the Madrid coach, Carlos Queiroz, said. "We had some fantastic moments and then we threw them away."

The crowd were sated, however. Although less than two-thirds full - many do not return to Madrid until the end of August - the Bernabeu chanted Beckham's name. Beating Betis was expected and although in this mercantile town the real business will come against Barcelona, Deportivo and in the Champions' League, Beckham, last off the pitch, did not look out of place.

Goals: Beckham (2) 1-0; Juanito (33) 1-1; Ronaldo (61) 2-1.

Real Madrid (4-4-2): Casillas; Salgado, Helguera, Raul Bravo, Roberto Carlos; Beckham, Cambiasso, Zidane (Morientes, 86), Figo; Raul (Solari, 77), Ronaldo (Portillo, 86).

Real Betis (4-5-1); Contreras; Varela (Ito, 84), Lembo, Juanito, Mingo; Joaquin, Arzu, Capi, Ismael (Fernando, 60), Assuncao; Palermo (Maldonado, 73).

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