| The crowd roared when David Beckham balanced a ball on his head and then on his back at an indoor stadium in Bangkok Wednesday. (Reuters)
Ho Chi Minh City: Football superstar and fashion icon David Beckham was greeted by over 15,000 ecstatic fans on Wednesday as he showcased his skills in Vietnam’s southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City.
The England captain, on the fourth leg of his sponsored Asian tour, sent the crowd wild at the city’s No. 7 Stadium, as he showered the net with his trademark free kicks and went through his book of tricks. “I’m overwhelmed by the welcome and it is a great pleasure to be here in this city,” the pony-tailed Beckham told his screaming fans after greeting them in Vietnamese.
Serenaded by dancing girls and local popstars, the former Manchester United star, dressed in grey and red, took to the pitch like a gladiator in a heavily guarded arena, every goal greeted by cheers, every miss met with loud sighs. “I love him, I love him. He is such a fantastic player,” shouted 20-year-old student Nguyen Cao Cuong as he jumped up and down in the packed, sweltering terraces.
Beckham’s presence in a country where western idols are still viewed with a certain amount of suspicion by the Communist regime has generated a level of excitement comparable only with the November 2000 US presidential visit by Bill Clinton.
The 28-year-old midfielder arrived in Vietnam’s southern business capital last evening by private jet after performing at a similar exhibition in Kuala Lumpur. His other previous stops included Japan and Thailand.
He was due to fly to Bangkok from here. Beckham was not accompanied by his popstar wife Victoria. The former Spice Girl elected to stay in the Thai capital. Football’s glamour boy is reputed to be receiving an estimated one million pounds from his promotional swing, according to British media reports.
His off-season tour has been given extra attention after his transfer last week from Manchester United to Real Madrid in a deal worth up to 35 million euros ($ 41.25 million).
However, due to the intense media interest in the transfer, Beckham’s agents have banned all foreign reporters from his press conferences and photo events.
Decoy cars, sneaky exits via hotel backdoors and tight security have characterised his Vietnam leg, leaving the British tabloid reporters following his trail with gloomy faces.
Vietnamese journalists were also issued with guidelines of what they could not ask him by the public relations firm handling the visit. Among the prohibited topics were his relationship with Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, his wife’s career, and how much he was being paid for his Asian tour.
Local reporters, instead, were encouraged to ask him about his World Cup experience last year and his thoughts on Asian football.
Beckham, however, denied on Wednesday that his off-the-pitch promotional work was detracting from his on-field performance. “I keep both sides totally separate because I have to,” he said.
“My biggest passion comes from the field. When I step onto that field that’s all I’m thinking about. People think I do a lot of promotional work, more than I actually do, but really to me the most important thing is my football and I never let anything get in the way of that," he said.
Meanwhile, Beckham hopes to try his hand at baseball, the king sport in Japan, when he returns there in August, a Tokyo sports daily said Wednesday.
The 28-year-old England captain wants to pitch the first ball to open a Japanese professional baseball match when he tours there with his new club Real Madrid for a football friendly, the newspaper Sports Nippon reported. Real Madrid will play J-League FC Tokyo at the National Stadium on August 5.
Beckham is keen on American sports, particularly baseball, and would have pitched at the opening ceremony of a baseball match at the New York Stadium during Manchester’s US tour in July and August, the daily said. (AFP)