The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Class act need not fear biggest stage

There are those who argue that David Beckhamís remarkable abilities will atrophy in the dressing room of all the talents that is Real Madrid, that he will struggle to make the bench of a team containing so many galacticos.

Nonsense. Those like Beckham with a gift for expressing themselves with a football cannot be gagged. Englandís captain will blossom at the Bernabeu. There are those who deride his technical accomplishments, who decry him as a celebrity footballer more interested in spreading word of the Beckham brand around the globe than spraying passes around a field of play.

Nonsense. Anyone present at Old Trafford when England were struggling to overcome Greece will remember how one man breathed life into the fading embers of a countryís World Cup dream. That was Beckham, Englandís captain and catalyst. This class act has been bought by Real because he can lend them that extra dimension, that extra touch of flair to help them regain the Champions League which this famous old club believe should reside permanently on the Castillana, that elegant boulevard that glides through Madrid and houses the Prado and the Bernabeu, twin palaces of art.

Deemed surplus to Sir Alex Fergusonís tactical requirements as United move away from 4-4-2 to a less wing-obsessed strategy, Beckham arrives in Spain with a point to prove and an exquisite platform on which to parade his passing, his dexterous distribution and his knack of conveying a still ball into dangerous areas.

Ferguson should not be censured for dismissing Beckhamís worth to Unitedís cause; a manager whose depths of determination defined last seasonís Premiership race, whose impact is unmatched since Bob Paisleyís days, has earned the right to rebuild his side in any manner he chooses. Old Trafford habituees tend to back their managerís judgement, knowing how he has jettisoned legends before and prospered.

So this divorce, however superficially messy, makes sense for both parties. Ferguson can refine his side in a more fluid fashion, relying on nimble darting creative zephyrs behind Ruud van Nistelrooy. Beckham is given the stage to show he is genuinely a world-class talent.

This is not a time for regrets, for savaging each other under the exit sign of Old Trafford: Beckham and Ferguson have done well together and now must excel apart. Ferguson helped raise Beckham, helped nurture him into such a formidable force. They have grown apart but the break was accelerated by Fergusonís belief that United must take a different tactical path.

And forget much of the hype over Beckhamís commercial appeal to Real. Undoubtedly, the photogenic, smiling family man will open up new markets, particularly in the Far East.

But the area they really want him to open up is the space behind opposing defences. Beckhamís ability to land a ball on a Euro from 70 paces will be particularly relished by Ronaldo, the predatory panther of a Brazilian. Such canny observers of the European game, Real also appreciate that many games are settled by set pieces. No-one can bend it like Beckham. He will bring goals, athleticism and glamour.

He will particularly relish the chance of playing in the middle, although Real will soon discover that Beckham cannot tackle a tortilla. Castilleís collection of cavaliers still need a centre-half to succeed Fernando Hierro and a holding midfielder to partner Claude Makelele.

Beckham has the persistence and technique to make the grade, possibly at Luis Figoís expense, but to settle quickly and gain the dressing-roomís respect this son of Essex must learn Spanish swiftly. When he does and becomes a regular in the side after an inevitably uncertain few months, Beckham will shine.

He will mature into an even better player for England by training and playing with such stellar acts as Zinedine Zidane, Raul and Roberto Carlos. And he will enjoy Englandís international against Liechtenstein on September 10 ó at Old Trafford.

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