Wednesday, June 18, 2003

End it like Beckham: From Manchester to Madrid



By Stephen Wilson
The Associated Press

LONDON - The David Beckham era is over for Manchester United. The English soccer star was sold to Real Madrid on Tuesday by Manchester United for a $41 million transfer fee.

The Premier League champions said the deal would be finalized in July.

"I know that I will always regret it later in life if I had turned down the chance to play at another great club like Real Madrid," Beckham said in a statement released through his agents.

Last week, Manchester United said it had reached a deal to ship Beckham to Barcelona. But the player turned down the move, clearing the way for a transfer to his preferred choice - glamorous Real Madrid, the nine-time European Cup champion.

The England captain and midfielder left London on Tuesday for a promotional tour of Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.

Beckham, a 13-year veteran with Manchester United, was benched during last season by team manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Beckham dismissed suggestions of a rift with Ferguson despite several publicized fallouts.

"I would like to publicly thank Sir Alex Ferguson for making me the player I am today," Beckham said in the statement.

The England captain is more than a soccer star. He's a cultural icon, the nation's most talked about, written about and photographed personality. The story of his possible departure was the top story on newscasts and in newspapers.

He's a marketing colossus with a talent for self-promotion. Sure, he's one of the best in the world at crosses and free kicks, but he's also fashion model, hairstyle trendsetter and all-around celebrity.

He's popular with soccer fans and non-fans alike, men, women, children and different ethnic and racial groups.

He and his wife Victoria, the former Spice Girl, have been dubbed the country's unofficial royal couple. Their mansion in Hertforshire, north of London, is known as "Beckingham Palace."

"We are delighted with David's arrival, a strategic signing who will contribute to making us a more competitive club and team," Real Madrid sports director Jorge Valdano said on the team's Web site.

"Our relationship with Manchester United has been greatly strengthened by this agreement, although it has been David's firm and unflinching will to play for Madrid which has made this possible."

Real Madrid already has several high-priced stars, including Brazil's Ronaldo, France's Zinedine Zidane, Portugal's Luis Figo and Spain's Raul Gonzalez.

Beckham has helped Manchester United win six of its eight league titles in 11 years, and the European Champions Cup in 1999. He earned a reported $143,000 a week at Manchester United, the sport's richest club. His net worth is $79.5 million, according to a recent survey of Britain's richest people in The Sunday Times. That number includes endorsement and sponsorship deals.




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