Chelsea must offer world record fee to land Beckham

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The Independent Online

Chelsea Will have to break the world record transfer fee if they want to sign David Beckham, according to Real Madrid. The Spanish club have indicated that they would reluctantly sell the England captain before the start of next season but will drive an extremely hard bargain.

Chelsea Will have to break the world record transfer fee if they want to sign David Beckham, according to Real Madrid. The Spanish club have indicated that they would reluctantly sell the England captain before the start of next season but will drive an extremely hard bargain.

That would mean Roman Abramovich paying more than the £48m Real itself agreed when it signed Zinedine Zidane from Juventus in 2001. Beckham, like all Madrid's galacticos, has a release clause in his contract. In his case the figure is €138m (£95m) and it may well be that the Chelsea owner will, astonishingly, have to come close to that amount if he is going to land his main summer target and a player he has coveted. But if any club is capable of meeting that figure, it is Chelsea.

Real, meanwhile, have realised that the personal problems surrounding Beckham have made it more likely that he will leave. Initially, the club thought it could help him sort his problems out. But if a fee is agreed it is believed they will not stand in his way.

There is no desire to sell him and sources at the Bernabeu refute recent suggestions that the club are unhappy with the player or how he has performed in his debut season in La Liga, even though Madrid may end it without a trophy for the first time in five years. Indeed, there is more unhappiness with players such as the Real captain, Raul, and Luis Figo who have both underperformed. The latter may also leave this year.

Beckham, 29 tomorrow, signed a four-year deal when he joined from Manchester United last summer. His sale would represent a significant profit as Madrid paid £23.6m for him, although about a quarter of that fee was contingent on on-the-field success, particularly in the Champions' League. At the same time Madrid have reaped huge commercial benefits from Beckham - which Chelsea are keen utilise as they try to create their own global sports brand.

Chelsea have made no secret of their admiration of Beckham and, through sources at the SFX sports agency, it was made clear that the player himself believes he will - and probably should - return to England. It has been a tumultuous year for him in Spain. Following allegations that Beckham had two affairs, and his wife Victoria's refusal to move to the Spanish capital, the player is ready to move for the sake of his family. He has two young sons who are to be schooled in Hertfordshire.

Already Britain's richest sportsman, Beckham will earn up to £100,000 a week at Stamford Bridge. He will continue to receive about £15m a year from sponsorships with 12 companies and his commercial standing has not been affected by the recent adverse publicity. Many of those companies, such as Vodaphone, have been informed of events.

Chelsea's head coach, Claudio Ranieri, was yesterday asked about Beckham. He said: "I admire everything about him. He's a great footballer. The whole world knows him. The timing of this [the transfer speculation] is strange. Everything is strange now."

Ranieri added: "I don't know if Chelsea are in the market for players like Beckham and Ronaldo. An Italian journalist asked me if Roman Abramovich players. I said if the other team wants to sell, then he can buy them. If they came to the Premiership it would be great because all the attention in the world is on this championship right now."

Beckham has also been linked to a move to Arsenal - the club his wife Victoria wanted him to join when he left United - but that is highly unlikely. Their manager, Arsène Wenger, was asked yesterday if he wanted to buy the player. "Well, who would not be interested in signing David Beckham?" he replied. "The first part of the answer is there but the second part is who can afford him?"

A spokesman for Real Madrid said yesterday: "We don't have any comment to make because there are lots of stories about our players' futures at this time." However, their sporting director Jorge Valdano - who is himself under pressure - has confirmed that a buy-out clause exists.

The deal would not happen until after Euro 2004. Real would use the money to reshape their hapless defence - once again targeting Valencia's Roberto Ayala. In addition, they are bidding for the Real Sociedad play-maker Xabi Alonso and, sources indicate, have lined up Roma's Francesco Totti on a four-year deal.

Although they remain interested in Thierry Henry, they accept the player will not leave Arsenal, while interest in United's Ruud van Nistelrooy has cooled. Indeed, the player himself admitted yesterday that his agent, Rodger Linse, had been in contact with Barcelona. However, Van Nistelrooy insisted he had no intention of leaving Old Trafford.

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