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Becks Asia-bound

Singapore: David Beckham descends on Asia on Wednesday for a publicity extravaganza that analysts believe will highlight the superstar’s unrivalled ability to open up the Asian market for any club he chooses.

From Bangkok to Beijing, Singapore to Seoul, the English captain is idolised for his combination of football skills, charm and good looks — and the European clubs battling to rip him away from Manchester United know it.

“The girls go crazy over him and for the guys he brings something a little bit special to football,” the general manager of Manchester United’s commercial arm in south-east Asia, Tiong Quah Kim, said.

His iconic status translates to big bucks, as Manchester United’s dominance of the increasingly lucrative football marketing industry in Asia illustrates.

The group managing director of Manchester United, David Gill, recently claimed there were about 50 million Red Devils fans world-wide, of whom just 10 million were in Britain. Most of the rest are in Asia.

Manchester United has opened at least ten of its own “mega stores” across Asia over the past three years and sales of Beckham products have proved the core of their business.

“Beckham products comprise between 50 to 60 per cent of all Man U products sold,” Bangkok mega store manager Veena Sitibanjerd said. “The most popular products are mugs, notebooks and plastic toys.”

Beckham is perhaps most popular in Japan, which is where he will first travel on Wednesday for a series of sponsors’ promotions before heading to Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand during a one-week sojourn.

Officials at Kansai International airport in Osaka described the mob reaction to Beckham’s arrival for the World Cup finals in Japan last year as an event usually reserved for movie stars.

“I have never seen such a beautiful face,” a 17-year-old high school student gushed at the time, reflecting the sentiments of many Japanese women.

His book, titled Beckham: My World,has been translated into Japanese and sold 330,000 copies nation-wide since its 2002 launch.

“This is by far the best selling photo-autobiography of its kind,” said Koichi Matsumoto, a spokesman for PHP Institute, the book’s Japanese publisher.

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