The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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To be or not to be in Spain

Madrid: While Barcelona presidential candidate Joan Laporta is confident of bringing David Beckham to the Nou Camp, the England skipper may well be taking time out to mull over the implications of a move to sunnier climes.

Despite its alluring holiday brochure appeal, Spain has hardly lived up to its promise as an idyllic destination for British footballers and many have struggled to replicate the success they enjoyed on home soil.

Beckham is unlikely to be drawing any lessons from Stan Collymore, the last Englishman to sign — and then spectacularly fail — at a Spanish club, but he may look more carefully at the experiences of another former Liverpool man, Steve McManaman. The talented midfielder moved to R eal Madrid in 1999 when he was in his prime at the age of 27, a year younger than Beckham is now, and the move effectively signalled the end of his international career.

From being one of the leading lights at Anfield, he quickly had to settle for a bit-part at Real, and has spent more time watching Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Raul from the sidelines than playing alongside them on the pitch.

Having said that most players would be pretty happy if they had two European Cup winners medals and a league championship to show for a four-year stint with one club.

McManaman’s experience, however, may be one of the reasons why a move to Barcelona would be more appropriate for Beckham than following in his footsteps to the Bernabeu.

Beckham could step into the Barca first team with ease whereas, with Figo on the right flank, Roberto Carlos rampaging on the left and Zidane given free rein in the middle, Real would be hard-pressed to find room for another creative midfielder.

Whether it be at Barca or Real, though, Beckham would be expected to make an immediate impact whenever he stepped on to the pitch. No less a figure than Ronaldo has been the target of the ire of Real fans on several occasions this season when he has failed to live up to his billing as the world’s top player.

Former England striker Gary Lineker, who enjoyed an early burst of success after moving from Everton to Barcelona in 1986, has issued a clear warning about what could happen if a player does not find his feet quickly.

“In England you get one year to find your feet and adapt,” he said. “But in Spain if you start the season badly it can end up going catastrophically wrong.”

Former Manchester United striker Mark Hughes, who followed Lineker to Catalunya, never made the grade at the Nou Camp and was quickly bundled off to Bayern Munich on a loan deal after just a season.

Aside from matters on the pitch, there is the no less important issue of whether or not Beckham would be able to settle into Spain’s society. Times have moved on since Liverpool man Ian Rush said after his move to Juventus that “living in Italy was like living in a foreign country,” but even a globetrotter like Beckham would find it hard to adjust to a new language and culture.

If he does make the switch to Spain, Beckham will be in for a shock if he expects to find the same sort of privacy he enjoys at United’s secluded Carrington training ground.

A battle-hardened legion of sports reporters attend every training session at both Real and Barca. Even the biggest stars are expected to grant regular interviews while the “Prensa Rosa” — the nearest equivalent Spain has to the British tabloids — are already sharpening their teeth on stories about Beckham and pop star wife Victoria.

Most British and Irish players who have enjoyed success in Spain, like Liverpool trio John Aldridge, Sammy Lee and Michael Robinson, all played for smaller clubs well clear of the glare of the media spotlight.

Still, there are plenty of arguments in favour of the move. More than any other British player, Beckham has the talent needed to adjust to the style of football played in Spain.

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