Player's popularity in Asia key to transfer

Eastern promise: Real's passport to global riches

David Beckham's massive popularity in the Far East is a key reason the England captain has been coveted by Real Madrid. Never mind that he can sometimes score from a free kick. He can shift merchandise in Asia by the planeload and that ability more than anything he can do on the pitch will help his new club close the wealth generation gap between themselves and Manchester United.

Beckham will prove how big he is in Japan over the next few days. He was due to arrive in Tokyo early this morning to begin a nine-day, four-nation promotional tour of Asia. "I had such a good time in Asia last summer at the World Cup and have been looking forward to returning," he said yesterday. He did not need to add: "And it'll be a nice little earner, too."

One of the first stops on the tour will be the Tokyo Beauty Centre, where Beckham and his wife Victoria will do some promotional work. That deal alone is thought to be worth £2m. Beckham will do likewise for a confectionery company, Meiji Seika, who are thought to have paid him a seven-figure sum to sell their goods.

His appearance and athleticism have made him popular in Japan but it is his image as a "safe" sex symbol - nice wife, good family, stable background, no drink or drug problems - that has earned him in a place in the country's affections. The flattery has got him everywhere.

Anything in Japan with Beckham's name or face on it sells, from clothing to drinks to mobile phone covers to club memorabilia. More important still is the knock-on effect of his association with a particular team. Football supporters in the Far East are far more likely than Western fans to switch allegiance. His departure from Manchester United will see a large body of Far East fans transfer their support - and buying habits - with him.

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