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Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Move to Real has made me stronger’
- I always wanted to be a well-known footballer... the commercial package is a bonus: Beckham

A proud son of Essex, David Beckham’s heart will always be in England and particularly in the national side. Monday, a smile lighting up his tanned face, the Real Madrid player sat at England’s Essex retreat and mused about how his life had changed since Manchester United sold him.

Beckham revealed that United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, did not even say goodbye. “I think the last time I spoke to him was the last game of last season,” Beckham said. The suggestion that this ambitious player had been keen to leave United for some months intensified Monday. “I am always in control of my decisions and my destiny,” he said. “I was always sure of what I was going to do.”

England’s captain, who leads the team out against Croatia in Wednesday’s Portman Road friendly, was also sure that he wanted Sven-Goran Eriksson to continue as England’s head coach for as long as possible. “Of course. You always want great managers to stay on at any team. Sven has been great for the team and the country. The results speak for itself. It would be nice for us to get through the qualifiers, reach Euro 2004 and do something in that competition. I want Sven to stay until we win something.”

Greeted by his old United teammates, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, Beckham has been watching them. “It was slightly strange seeing someone [Cristiano Ronaldo] in the No 7 shirt, but I have moved on and so have United. I wish United and Ronaldo all the best. United are lucky to have a talent like that; the fans and players realise that already. The shirt has been worn by players like George Best and Bryan Robson so it deserves someone good in it. Ronaldo looks a great talent.

“But it happens at every great club: players leave and new ones come in. I was at United when Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis left and we thought ‘where are the players coming from'’ But the manager had the faith to put the young lads in and we won a lot . I saw the free-kick Giggsy scored against Bolton and the one in the US. Giggs is great.”

Beckham has relished his move to Spain. “I have had to be mentally stronger moving to a different country and to a different team but I am always looking for challenges,” he continued. “Whenever I have been given a challenge, I have always reacted the right way, like when I was sent off at the World Cup [in 98] and then played against West Ham [at the start of the next season].

“This seems a minor challenge, one of the easier ones when set against some of the other things that have happened in my life. It’s a challenge I can fulfil and gain from. I can only learn from great players like Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Raul, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos. Real are a massive, massive club.”

He had been concerned that the commercial baggage and media train that trail in his wake would irritate Raul and company. “The hype might have upset a few players. I am sure Real’s players were thinking ‘what is David Beckham going to be like with everything that comes with him'’ So it was good I spent three weeks with the players and we had a lot of quality time together.

“Hopefully, their image of me has changed. It was important for me to explain to them that I love playing football and I always will give 110 per cent. You have to prove a point to any team you play for and you do that with work ethic. Every one of the Real players has been good to me. Figo has been amazing; he speaks very good English and the first hour I arrived, he talked to me for 30 minutes and asked me whether I had found a house. It proves Real have great team spirit.”

There is a clause in Beckham’s Real contract which stipulates that he must be released for England matches. For the moment, he is trying to pick up the language. “It’s taken me 28 years to learn English, so it’s going to take me more than 28 days to learn Spanish!” he quipped.

Being able to communicate with his new colleagues will inevitably facilitate his settling into the dressing room as well as on-field understanding. He is eager to join in, aware that this will lessen the impact of some of circus following him around.

“The players have laughed about some of the things that happened [on tour] in Asia and the reaction of some of the fans out there. But there are so many stars at Real they are used to it. Ronaldo gets that attention day in, day out. ”

On the playing side, Beckham has found preparation for match days, “a little bit more relaxed than in England, although I have had to adapt to playing and eating later which has been hard”.

Was he missing anything' “Just pie, mash and liquor!” No wonder he was so keen to join up with England at their hotel in the heart of Essex.

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