David Beckham will eventually have to prove he has the talent and temperament to improve Real Madrid as a team as well as a public profile capable of extending the club’s commercial pulling power.
By Kevin Fylan
MADRID, June 18 (Reuters) – David Beckham will eventually have to prove he has the talent and temperament to improve Real Madrid as a team as well as a public profile capable of extending the club’s commercial pulling power.
The England captain can expect a lengthy grace period following his move from Manchester United, though, after the experiences of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo showed that even the world’s best players need time to settle in.
Real may have signed Beckham without a clear idea of where he can fit into a midfield already featuring Figo on the right and Zidane and Claude Makelele in the middle, disregarding the side’s more pressing need for a central defender.
But even with doubts about tactics and whether Beckham can establish himself in such exalted company, the transfer represents another coup for Real and their ambitious president Florentino Perez, particularly at the cut-price fee of 35 million euros.
“People said after we signed Zidane and Ronaldo that we really needed a defender but that’s not the case,” said Real’s sporting director Jorge Valdano. “We moved quickly to sign Beckham because he will help us build a better team.”
If Beckham does struggle early on at Real Madrid he will be in good company.
Figo spent the first few games of the 2000-01 season seemingly wondering what he was doing in the white shirt of Real after his controversial move from Barcelona.
Gradually, though, he rediscovered his ability to pick out his forwards with pinpoint crossing and by the end of the season he was unquestionably the most popular player in a side that won the Spanish league title.
Zidane’s performances were also closely questioned after his arrival at the Bernabeu the following year. By mid-October, Real were 16th in the league, without a win away from home, but the Frenchman shrugged off all the early criticism.
By the turn of the year, Zidane was back playing with his customary elan and he capped his debut season with a virtuoso goal in the Champions League final to secure a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen.
Ronaldo took even longer to win over the Bernabeu crowd, after arriving from Inter Milan in 2002 patently unfit and overweight.
When he eventually made his debut he scored two memorable goals but it was not until his hat-trick against Manchester United in the Champions League in April that the Brazilian could truly say he had settled in.
Because of his immense popularity, Beckham will be given at least as much time as Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo to prove himself, but in the end he will have to show he is worth a place in a side already playing the best attacking football in Europe.
For the moment, Real are ruling out Beckham usurping Figo, which leaves two realistic options.
One would be for him to drop deep and play alongside Makelele in a relatively defensive position. Otherwise, he can attempt to take a freer role, switching positions with Zidane and drifting just behind forwards Raul and Ronaldo.
Beckham’s best chance of fitting in to the Real squad, and keeping the support of the crowd, will be to work hard, keep a supply of crosses coming in and hope to arrow in a couple of his trademark free kicks.
The England man has already been warned, though, that he will not automatically be handed the ball every time the referee blows his whistle for a free kick.
“I’ll let him take some of them — but only some,” Brazilian full back Roberto Carlos joked in sports daily Marca. “No one has an exclusivity over free kicks at Real Madrid.”
“Our president Florentino Perez has shown he can sign the biggest players. Beckham is part of that group and in Real Madrid you can never have too many good players. I’m sure he’ll be well received and he’ll settle into the squad well.”