Whatever else happens between now and September, David Beckham's move from Manchester United FC to Real Madrid CF will be the transfer coup of the summer.
All three parties confirmed the €35m switch on Tuesday night, with Madrid's sporting director Jorge Valdano saying: "We are just delighted with David's arrival. This contract is part of a strategy that will help make us a bigger club."
Three months before, Valdano had set the Beckham rumour mill in motion when he said: "Beckham could fit into our project." Speculation about the England captain's future became a never-ending story, which Beckham's two goals in United's UEFA Champions League quarter-final defeat by Madrid served only to embellish.
Blockbuster summer buys
Certainly, a Madrid bid for Beckham seemed logical given club president Florentino Pérez's propensity for blockbuster summer buys and the talk of a rift between Beckham and his United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. But would Beckham follow where Luis Figo (in 2000), Zinedine Zidane (2001) and Ronaldo (2002) had boldly gone before?
FC Barcelona presidential candidate Joan Laporta hoped not. He would win last Sunday's election on the strength of a pledge to bring 'Becks' to Camp Nou. "If Real Madrid want to do a deal with Manchester United they'll have to get past us first," he said. Barça appeared to steal a march on their arch-rivals when last week United announced they were conditionally accepting a Laporta bid for Beckham.
Yet worryingly for the Catalans, Beckham's agents issued a statement saying the player had no intention of meeting the then candidate. And when these agents failed to answer his calls this week, Laporta must have feared the worst. "Beckham's agents were tight-lipped. They rejected our offer and the conditions of the agreement with United didn't count for anything," he said.
According to Valdano, Barcelona's interest had merely strengthened Madrid's purpose. "
Beckham's will was the key, especially after Barcelona got involved," he said. "We were not nervous when we heard Laporta wanted him, although it is fair to say this accelerated the process of bringing Beckham to Madrid."
The project was completed on Tuesday evening, Pérez added, because "Manchester United and Beckham wanted to announce it immediately because of the other option [Barcelona]".
So Florentino got his man again, and Beckham will be unveiled as a Madrid player on 2 July. He can look forward to a Champions League campaign with a Madrid side that goes into Sunday's final game of the Spanish season with a one-point lead in the title race. By contrast, Barcelona are struggling to qualify for the UEFA Cup.
'Best players in the world'
But what can Beckham offer Madrid? "Beckham can play everywhere on the field," coach Vicente del Bosque said. "Real Madrid have been signing the best players in the world and this year wasn't going to be any different."
Yet it is not on the pitch that Beckham will, as Valdano predicts, make Madrid "a bigger club". Consider that the news of his transfer to the Bernabéu broke as Beckham and his pop star wife embarked upon a promotional tour of the Far East, in Japan.
'Image is important'
Another clue to Beckham's real worth came from Valdano himself. "
These days football clubs are marketing brands, not just teams," he said on Monday in a forum on football merchandising. "It is no longer just a case of doing well on the pitch. The more [merchandise] you sell, the better. Image is important.
"There are icons in the world of football and Beckham is one of them. We have Ronaldo, we have Zidane with his Arab lineage, we have Argentinian players, Spanish ones. In general we represent everything that is Latin. There is a lot of the South in Madrid. And Beckham is the North."
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