Thu, Jul 03, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Real Madrid welcomes Beckham

`LEAGUE OF DREAMS' The Spanish team introduced its latest multi-million-dollar signing and gave him a number 23 shirt in front of hundreds of journalists and cheering fans

AP , MADRID, SPAIN

David Beckham, left, holds his new number 23 Real Madrid shirt presented to him by honorary president and former player Alfredo Di Stefano, right, as he is formally introduced as a Real Madrid player at the basketball stadium next to the club's training ground in Madrid yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

England captain David Beckham was formally introduced yesterday as a Real Madrid player, adding the world's most marketable soccer star to an already glittering lineup.

With TV cameras broadcasting the ceremony live around the world, team president Florentino Perez unveiled his fourth multi-million dollar man in as many years and hailed Beckham as one of the best English soccer players of all times.

"David, welcome to the league of dreams," Perez told the former Manchester United star.

Beckham, 28, opened a brief speech by thanking team officials in Spanish -- "gracias," he said with a smile, then added: "Football is everything to me and joining Real Madrid is a dream come true."

Beckham wore a powder blue suit, open white shirt and a pair of earrings. His wife Victoria, the former Posh in the Spice Girls pop group, sat in the front row.

More than 500 journalists from 25 countries were on hand to cover the event at Real Madrid's basketball arena, the Raimundo Saporta Pavilion.

The photogenic midfielder received a white Real Madrid jersey -- bearing his name and the number 23 -- from honorary president Alfredo di Stefano, an illustrious Real Madrid hero from the 1950s.

Beckham later donned the white Real uniform and kicked a ball around a bit on a practice field. Hundreds of fans cheered as they sat in a hot Madrid sun.

The unveiling ceremony unfolded on a stage featuring a giant closeup photo of Beckham's face, his last name and that of his new employer.

Perez noted that Beckham is a cultural icon and trendsetter with followers all over the planet, a man described as casting a "global spell."

"That may be true," Perez said. "But what is really true is that Real Madrid signed David Beckham because he is a great soccer player, a great professional whose dedication and spirit of sacrifice, whose team spirit and simplicity are recognized by all who have dealt with him."

"For us he is one of the best English soccer players of all times," Perez said. "For that reason and none other Beckham is here with us today."

Beckham, transferred last week from Manchester United for $US40 million, is the latest of a string of big-money recruits to join the nine-times European Cup champion and 29-times titlist of the Spanish league.

He will play alongside other Perez acquisitions such as Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.

Beckham arrived Tuesday with his wife and their eldest son, four-year-old Brooklyn, amid a frenzy of media coverage, bodyguards and police protection. One Spanish newspaper said some visiting heads of state don't get such lavish VIP treatment.

After passing a medical exam, Beckham signed a four-year contract at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, completing his transfer. He made it official with a pen his wife bought to mark the occasion.

Beckham will make his Madrid debut when the team plays four friendlies in the Far East late this month and early next month.

Its opening game is against the Dragon Team in Beijing on Aug. 2, followed by a game three days later with FC Tokyo in Tokyo. On Aug. 8 Madrid plays China in Hong Kong. Its final game is against Malaysia on Aug. 10 in Kuala Lumpur.

Beckham's first match on Spanish soil is expected to come a week later when Madrid visits Mallorca in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, which pits the league titlist with the Copa del Rey winner.

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