Modern American bible embraces Beckham

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The "greening" of David Beckham in America reaches a new and stunning level today with a major splash in Sports Illustrated - the bible of the thinking sports fan.

Reverential in tone, SI, which normally relegates the world game of football to the back end of its book after blanket coverage of icons like Tiger Woods and the basketball star Kobe Bryant, devotes seven pages to the "global phenomenon" - a decision which was made even before Beckham's move to Real Madrid went through.

Beckham doesn't quite join such old megastars as Pele and Maradona - and the New York Cosmos striker Georgio Chinaglia in the Seventies - as a rare football cover story, but he gets a panel across the image of David Robinson, a key player for the NBA title winners St Antonio Spurs, under the strap-line, "Spend it on Beckham".

Mostly the piece is hagiography with gushing quotes from academics and the novelist Nick Hornby. But when it comes to the thorny question of why Manchester United would ever consider parting with the player, the magazine does turn to the author of the decision, manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who says, "He was blessed with great stamina, the best of all the players we've had here. After training he would always be practicing, practicing, practicing. And then his life changed when he met his wife. She's in pop and David got another image. And he's developed this fashion thing. I saw his transition to a different person."

The point, first made by Ferguson in his autobiography, Managing My Life, ends with the declaration, "So long as it doesn't affect his football side, it doesn't bother me at all." Plainly it has done so in the eyes of Ferguson, which of course has triggered the explosion of publicity which preceded the Real deal.

One thing is utterly clear. The global strategy of the Beckhams and Real Madrid has had an instant pay-off here in the richest celebrity market of them all.

Beckham's signing for Real has been given attention which would have been considered astonishing a few weeks ago before his "personal" tour of America. Then the New York Post sneered, "Bend it like who?" Now, apart from Sports Illustrated, the three most important newspapers - the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today - all consider Beckham's arrival in the Spanish capital a major news story.

The LA Times ran it on their front page under the headings, "Soccer Star to get Kicks in Spain: Where England's David Beckham goes - for $41m - spectacle follows." Inside a long feature was headed, "Real Deal: It's the Marketing." The New York Times wrote, "Beckham is Newest Star in Real Madrid's Galaxy." Unprecedently, the Times also ran an editorial on the impact of a single player in a game which long ago was categorised as a "recreational" sport best suited to women. USA Today said, "The Beckham Saga turns Spicier."

Interestingly, most of the American coverage notes the fact that as a player Beckham may not be needed by the world's most successful club, which already has the services of bigger achievers like Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Raul and Luis Figo. But plainly the Americans are in awe of the power of the Beckham celebrity. The headlines have confirmed the commercial value of the strategy of the player's SFX advisers, and the soundness of Real's investment in the "Beckham brand". Maybe a new film should be in the works and entitled Hype It Like Beckham.