After months of rumors and denials, it has finally been announced that England's soccer pin-up boy David Beckham will leave Manchester United to join the all-star line-up at Spain's Real Madrid.
David Beckham and his wife Victoria arrived in Japan on Wednesday, where Real Madrid hopes to boost its profile.
The speculation is finally over. Soccer (or football as the sport is known in much of the world) star David Beckham has decided to join Spain's leading club Real Madrid. Manchester United's glamorous player -- and one of the world's most famous soccer players -- has signed a lucrative four-year contract with the Spanish team.
"I recognize that this is an amazing opportunity for me at this stage in my career and a unique and exciting experience for my family," Beckham said of the deal.
Beckham, whose wife Victoria happens to be Posh Spice of the now disbanded pop group the Spice Girls, is more than a mere soccer player. Besides being the captain of the English national soccer squad, he's also a fashion icon in Britain, a massive marketing asset and a role model family man.
His fancy footwork on the pitch and flashy life with Victoria have easily made him one of the best known British celebrities worldwide.
So why would Manchester United or Man U -- as it is known among soccer fans -- let him go? Beckham, who has professionally only ever played for the northern English team, is at the height of his powers and of his popularity. By selling him now -- two years before his contract expires -- Manchester can cash in a transfer fee worth €35 million ($41 million), while saving the €11.4 million left to pay on his contract.
Were Beckham to stay until 2005 and then leave Man U, the club would see no transfer fee bonus. By then the 28-year-old father of two may be looking to retire or have lost his touch -- and his value.
Tensions at Old Trafford
Animosity between Beckham and Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson has been rumored for months. After losing a game in February the coach kicked a soccer shoe in the dressing room, and it struck Beckham over the eye, requiring several stitches. Observers say that Ferguson is irritated by Beckham playing his role as soccer pin-up boy for all it's worth.
Last week Manchester United said it had agreed to a deal to transfer Beckham to Real Madrid rival Barcelona for nearly €43 million. But Beckham claimed he was being used as a political pawn in the campaign for Joan Laporta to become Barcelona's president, which he subsequently did.
Value for Real
Real Madrid is paying significantly less than its rival offered for Beckham, who will command the same €6 million salary as other leading figures in the team. The Spanish club seems to be attracted to Beckham for the enormous commercial pulling power he's built up in places like Japan as much as for his soccer skills. Madrid already has a sextet of star players -- Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Raul and Roberto Carlos -- who have been acquired for astronomical sums since Florentino Perez became club president three years ago.
But the Spaniards want to expand their merchandising opportunities in the huge Asian market. Fittingly, Beckham, who is wildly popular in the Far East, was on a promotional tour of Asia with his wife, when the news of his transfer broke.
"David Beckham's signing will make us a better club and a
better team," said Real sport director Jorge Valdano at a press conference on Wednesday. "It will strengthen our image."
The question is whether there's life after Manchester United for David Beckham. Not only will he be leaving a place where he's played for more than a decade and feels comfortable, he will also be going to a new country where he doesn't speak the language.
And there will be a problem deciding what position he will play, since Luis Figo, one the world's finest right-sided midfielders, won't be vacating his place, Real's Vadano said. That could force Beckham to play a game he's not used to.
Beckham's English fans will also have to adjust to not seeing him play in the local Premier League. But they can rest assured he'll at least come home to play in international competition as England's captain.