Having failed to win anything last season, Real Madrid CF's determination to bounce back in 2004/05 was much chronicled. And having failed to sparkle in the latter part of his first term with the club, David Beckham had good reason to be more determined than most.
However, despite an embarrassment of riches on the pitch, Madrid have underperformed since the start of the campaign. Shaky results in the Primera División and a 3-0 defeat by Bayer 04 Leverkusen on UEFA Champions League Matchday 1 preceded the resignation of coach José Antonio Camacho.
Coming from behind to win 4-2 against AS Roma on Matchday 2 under new coach Mariano García Remón seemed to indicate a bright future - "that was the best we have played this season," said Beckham - but a 1-0 home loss to RC Deportivo La Coruña at the weekend has brought Madrid back down to earth.
However, while the Merengues occupy tenth place in the Spanish table, victory against Roma has at least raised hope of Champions League success. "There's a certain amount of pressure off the club because we have got points on the board," said Beckham.
Raúl González and Roberto Carlos, both of whom have been criticised by sections of the Madrid crowd, also eased the tension with goals against Roma - something which pleased their team-mate. "They have been here for years and you forget how much the club means to them," said Beckham.
However, Raúl's return to form is bad news for Beckham's England colleague Michael Owen. Signed from Liverpool FC in the summer by Camacho, Owen is already worried about his place in the Madrid pecking order - a situation that was not improved as he was substituted 51 minutes into the Deportivo game.
Beckham, however, has faith in his countryman. "It is always going to be tough for any player to break into this team," he said. "Michael will get a chance because everyone knows what a great player he is, and when he gets his chance he will take it."
While the one-time young bucks of the England side, Owen and Beckham, are sunning themselves in Spain, they will be aware that with his debut hat-trick against Fenerbahçe SK, new Manchester United FC striker Wayne Rooney is stealing their thunder back at home.
'A special thing'
The form of his team-mate from UEFA EURO 2004™ has certainly been a bright spot for Beckham. "As long as he carries on scoring that's great for him," the 29-year-old said. "To score a hat-trick on your debut is a special thing for him but he's a player who won't get carried away.
"Everyone knows I'm a United fan and I want them to do well until they play us," he added. "Wayne being there is a great thing for him - it's great to be under a manager who will look after him. He's a young player, he needs nurturing and there's no better place for that."
Beckham famously fell out with United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in his final months with the club, but the midfield player remembers his old mentor fondly. "Everyone knows about some of the problems I had with the manager but for many years he looked after me," said Beckham. As Madrid's form continues to fluctuate, Beckham could be forgiven for missing Sir Alex's dour consistency.
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