David Beckham's final journey as an employee of Manchester United was a symbolic one, to Japan, where he is adored as uncritically as he once was at Old Trafford.
By the time the most famous footballer in the world arrived in Tokyo, he was, as always seemed likely, a Real Madrid player, after United accepted an offer of £25m from the Spanish champions. Beckham will sign a four-year contract, worth £16.8m and will be officially unveiled at the Bernabeu on 2 July.
From Real's viewpoint, the deal has been timed perfectly. Much of the reasoning behind signing the England captain, as opposed to the world-class central defender the club badly requires, is Beckham's ability to break open markets in the Far East. His first public appearance in Japan, a country where nine out of 10 people know his name, will be in the white of Madrid. He will then fly to Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand and his first appearance on the pitch will be in China on 2 August.
The marketing has been perfectly dovetailed with the football and so have the negotiations. Real first made contact with United at a Uefa summit in Switzerland several months ago and while at Barcelona Joan Laporta trumpeted his deal for Beckham, Real conducted their business in private, most pertinently with the United chief executive, Peter Kenyon, in Sardinia.
Manchester United are guaranteed to receive only €25m (£17.5m). The remaining balance of €10m (£7m) is dependent on Real's performance over the next four years but since payments will be triggered by the club qualifying for the Champions' League and reaching the quarter-finals, something they have done every year since 1998, United can be confident of receiving their money.
Beckham has already agreed personal terms having been offered the same salary of €6m (£4.2m) commanded by Real Madrid's leading figures, Raul, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo, comparable with his earnings at Old Trafford. Obtaining Raul's No 7 shirt is likely to be more problematic, especially for someone who has the Roman numeral seven tattooed on his forearm. Beckham may compromise by wearing a white shirt with "77" emblazoned on the back and he is likely to operate in central midfield at the Bernabeu, a role he has long coveted and been denied in Manchester. Talks over image rights may be more complicated with Real wanting a stake in any future contract negotiated by his advisers.
Manchester United had to accept considerably less than the £30m fee they negotiated with Barcelona's president, Laporta but if they hoped to spark a bidding war involving Madrid and Milan, they were to be disappointed. Once Milan withdrew from the reckoning, Real recognised they were the only candidates likely to win Beckham's signature, and have consistently stated they would offer no more than €20m (£14m) for the England captain, although the first draft of the deal would have included a player exchange.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, would have been interested had the player been Claude Makelele but Geremi, who spent a season on loan at Middlesbrough, was unlikely to tempt him. Real made it clear that neither the French midfielder, nor Brazil's flamboyant defender, Roberto Carlos, was for sale.
Nevertheless, although the fee is considerably less than one they negotiated with Laporta before his election on Sunday, United will be satisfied with the figure since they will not have to pay off the balance of Beckham's contract worth, £8m.
Beckham's departure has been represented as a clash of style, culture and generation with Ferguson, but while strongly disapproving of the attempts of David and Victoria Beckham to sell themselves as a Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor for the 21st century, Ferguson paid a warm tribute last night. "I've known David since he was 11 years old and it's been a pleasure to see him grow into the player he has become," he said.
Beckham, who once described the Glaswegian as a "father figure" but with whom he has not exchanged a word in two months, was equally generous. "I would like to publicly thank Sir Alex Ferguson for making me the player I am today. I know I will always regret it in later life if I had turned down the chance to play for another great club like Real Madrid."
Although Beckham's transfer means Ronaldinho will not get his wish to play for Real Madrid, Ferguson still has his work cut out to land the Brazil midfielder. His brother and agent, Roberto Assis, was due to meet the Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, in London today but Barcelona and the two Milan clubs are interested in securing his services while Ronaldinho has made clear his preference to play in Spain.
In refusing even to negotiate with Barcelona, Beckham has rejected the public advice of two former England managers, Sir Bobby Robson and Terry Venables, and, according to the Spanish press, the private views of Sven Goran Eriksson. Johan Cruyff, an icon in Catalonia who guided them to their only European Cup, said that Beckham's problem at Madrid was that he would be outshone by "four stars more brilliant than he is". Barcelona, said Cruyff, would have built their side around him.
Yesterday morning Laporta insisted that his counterpart at Real Madrid, Florentino Perez, had told him they had no interest in Beckham. However, since winning the presidency on Sunday night, Laporta has backtracked from the idea that bringing Beckham to the Nou Camp was a done deal and for three years now Perez has made it his business to beat the Catalans on and off the pitch. Yesterday, he did it again.
Nevertheless, there are few losers. Ferguson has rid himself of a player who had arguably overshadowed Manchester United and earned himself money to rebuild for an assault on the European Cup. Laporta has been elected to the Barcelona presidency. Beckham will play for the most successful club in the world, Real have their entry into the Far East markets. Everybody won.
SHIFTING GROUNDS HOW ENGLAND'S CAPTAIN CAME TO LEAVE OLD TRAFFORD FOR THE BERNABEU
'It is totally out of the question. There is no way we would sell him or any of our best players'
Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager, 29 April
'Never, never, never. Nobody at Real has ever spoken about Beckham and I don't want to start now'
Florentino Perez, president of Real Madrid, 30 April
'I know Peter Kenyon and Sir Alex Ferguson are saying they want me to stay and that's good enough for me. My affection for the club has never changed'
David Beckham, 6 May
'We believe this is a good deal for the club, and we now look forward to building on the success of last season's title'
Peter Kenyon, Manchester United chairman, yesterday
'This is an amazing opportunity for me and a unique and exciting experience for my family. I know I will always regret it later in life if I had turned down the chance'
David Beckham, yesterday