| David Beckham attends the first training session in Kunming, southern China, on Friday. (Reuters)
Kunming: Real Madrid arrived in China on Friday to a raucous welcome amid heavy security — with all the attention on David Beckham.
The Spanish club, packed with multi-millionaire superstars, touched down at Kunming airport at 12.05 pm local time and were given a traditional welcome by about 100 colourfully dressed and drum-banging members of the Yunnan province’s ethic minorities.
Around 700 people crammed viewpoints around the tarmac with the biggest whoops of delight, and all the media attention, reserved for Beckham.
The England captain and former Manchester United star, without wife Victoria, stepped from the plane to have a flower garland planted over his head as bystanders cheered and clapped.
Wearing the team’s casual blue slacks and blue shirt and sporting a Japanese-style ponytail, the glamour boy jogged to a waiting bus to join his teammates and sped off.
Real will spend a week in Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan, training before an exhibition match in Beijing on August 2 with an all-star Chinese team and a loop through Asia.
Massive security has been thrown up for their stay. At the Hongta sports centre, the training ground of the Chinese national team, where Real will strut their stuff, an estimated 1,000 guards have been deployed. Another 700 police are on duty, one officer said.
China is hoping the spectacle of so many high profile soccer players will help kick-start its tourism industry stalled by the SARS crisis that gripped that country earlier this year.
The festivities included folk dancers, musicians playing drums and cymbals and four elephants. Fans waved signs saying “Beckham I love you!” and “Figo crazy for you” and red flags with the logo of Madrid’s Asian tour.
“I am so excited. I have no words to (describe) that I saw Beckham today,” said Liao Wending, a 22-year-old factory worker who took the day off to see the team arrive. “I’m so moved, I was screaming and shouting as he walked by.”
“He’s so handsome and he has so much class and breeding,” said Deng fang, 26, a tobacco factory employee and cheerleader for the Kunming soccer team.
Beckham — known in Chinese as “beikehanmu” — and other foreign stars are celebrities here.