When David Beckham changes hairstyles, it's front page news in England. So imagine the frenzy when the nation's most famous sportsman was rumored to be getting ready to bolt for Spain.
After weeks of feverish speculation that he was set to leave Manchester United for Real Madrid, the soap opera has been put to rest -- for the time being.
"Never, never, never, never," Real Madrid president Florentino Perez said of the prospect of the England captain and star midfielder joining his team. "Not now, not ever.
"We have not spoken about David Beckham," Perez added. "He has a contract with Manchester United. He is not even halfway through that contract. We are very happy with the players we have. That is the end of the matter."
Real Madrid also issued a statement on its Web site denying any approach for Beckham, perhaps the world's most marketable soccer player.
"Despite the speculation surrounding this issue, Madrid have no intention of negotiating the transfer of Mr. Beckham," it said.
Those were the words Manchester United officials wanted to hear.
"I am delighted Mr. Perez has confirmed this in such an emphatic matter, but anyway, we at Manchester United never had any intention of selling him," chief executive Peter Kenyon said. "I'm also assured by David's people that they don't want him to leave Manchester United."
Not everyone is convinced Beckham won't be wearing the famous white shirt of Real Madrid next season.
"Who you kidding?" screamed the back page headline in The Sun. "It's Unreal" said the Mirror.
The reason for the doubts -- Real Madrid made similar official denials in the past about big-name transfers that eventually came to pass.
In August, the club denied it had any intention of signing Ronaldo, only to have the Brazilian star complete a multimillion-dollar transfer from Inter Milan three weeks later.
The same thing happened before French star Zinedine Zidane joined Madrid from Juventus in 2001 for a world record US$65 million transfer fee.
Real's official denial came on the same day Beckham's high-profile wife Victoria, a former Spice Girl, appeared to hint the couple and their two young sons -- Brooklyn and Romeo -- were indeed leaving England.
Appearing in New York, she was asked whether the family planned such a move in the near future.
"I was wondering who was going to ask me that. I can't possibly answer," she said, but then gave an emphatic nod of the head and flashed a wide smile.
Victoria Beckham is widely reported to be eager to leave Manchester for a more glamorous locale. Milan, the Italian fashion capital, has been mentioned as another possible destination. Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti has made no secret of his desire to sign Beckham.
Beckham, who turned 28 yesterday, signed a contract extension last year that keeps him at Manchester United until June 30, 2005. But he has never ruled out moving to Madrid, repeatedly saying he is honored to be linked with the club.
Speculation over Beckham's future started months ago but went into overdrive after Man United manager Alex Ferguson dropped him to the substitutes' bench for the Premier League showdown against Arsenal on April 16 and the Champions League quarterfinal against Real Madrid a week later.
Beckham came on in the second half against Madrid and scored two goals as Man U won the game 4-3 but went out 6-5 on aggregate over two legs. Photos of a bare-chested Beckham saluting the Manchester crowd after the game -- in what was considered a farewell gesture -- were splashed across front pages.