Having sold its greatest icon, Manchester United yesterday began selling the deal to its supporters with its chief executive, Peter Kenyon, invoking the spectre of David Beckham walking away from Old Trafford for nothing under the Bosman ruling.
Kenyon needs to soothe the fan base; on Wednesday evening as the deal to sell Beckham to Real Madrid for £25m was announced, the club's website was besieged by emails which were mostly unsupportive, criticising United for selling their brightest star for too little and to their main European rivals.
Kenyon counter-attacked yesterday, saying: "Normally, when a player has two years left on his contract, we either renew his deal or accept it might be best if he move on elsewhere, allowing us to earn a fee for his sale. What does not make sense is for the club to let its top players leave at the end of their contract on a free transfer.
"In David's case, our approach in mid-May to his advisors about extending his current deal, which had just two years to run, did not meet with an immediate, positive response. Around the same time, we were approached by several clubs in Spain and Italy who were interested in buying David. It was at this point that it became clear a transfer deal involving David might be beneficial not only for the club but for the player."
Letting it be known that Beckham's advisors, SFX, were not interested in doing a deal with United in mid-May is designed to counter the claim that the England captain was touted around like a commodity by the club he had joined as a boy. Beckham is very keen to let it be known he did not want to leave Old Trafford; hence stories in last Sunday's News of the World, which has good relations with SFX, saying Beckham was "gutted" both at the prospect of leaving and at the way his transfer to Barcelona's presidential candidate, Joan Laporta, had been negotiated without his knowledge.
In fact, Jaume Llaurado, one of Laporta's rivals for the Barcelona's presidency, claimed Madrid and Beckham had agreed a pre-contract on 12 May, the day after the Premiership season finished. When Beckham arrived for his first press conference as a Real player, dressing appropriately in white, in Japan yesterday, he was asked whether his agents had instigated the move to Madrid. "That never went on," was his curt reply.
Mostly, however, he was effusive. Beckham said one aspect of his transfer that bothered him was the timing, coming a few days before Real Madrid's decisive encounter with Athletic Bilbao which will decide whether they retain the Spanish title.
"Things went on that I wouldn't be happy about. I think things could have been done differently," he said, adding: "I wouldn't have done it if it had affected my England career. I have spoken to Mr Eriksson about it and he just said to me: 'Whatever you do, it doesn't matter what club you are playing for. It doesn't affect you being England captain'."
Beckham, who has the number 7 tattooed on his forearm, said he would not dare to challenge Raul's right to wear the No 7 shirt in the Bernabeu. "I would never think about taking that off Raul because he is the king of Madrid."
Having had his advances for Beckham spurned, Laporta's mood can best be described as anxious and his deputy, Sandro Rosell, is now touring Europe attempting to bring in the kind of names that will satisfy the club's membership. Rosell talked to Ronaldinho's brother and agent, Roberto Assis, at the Confederations Cup in France and will also be attempting to woo Thierry Henry away from Arsenal.
David Dein, Arsenal's vice-chairman, who was yesterday conducting negotiations of his own with Harry Kewell's agent, will assume the answer is no. Arsenal have high hopes of capturing Kewell, although unlike Manchester United they would have trouble meeting Leeds' requirements of a cash-only offer. However, Kewell prefers a move to London where his wife's parents live, providing Arsenal can match the salary of £2.5m he was offered and rejected at Leeds. Arsenal have offered their England Under-21 striker Jermaine Pennant in part-exchange but Ray Parlour, whom the Leeds manager, Peter Reid, attempted to sign while at Sunderland could be more tempting.
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