| David Beckham waves to fans during a training session in Kunming on Monday
Kunming: Real Madrid may be trying to win fans in China as they look to latch onto commercial opportunities, but so far their maiden visit has come dangerously close to a public relations disaster.
In the three days since the team touched down in the southwestern city of Kunming, the Spanish League champions have managed to offend just about everyone involved in this first leg of their sweep through Asia.
They got off on the wrong foot when the players astounded Chinese officials by snubbing the ancient Chinese rite of passage for first-time guests, leaving a meticulously prepared banquet in their honour a mere 15 minutes after its start.
“It was chaos. They had a quick drink and left without eating,” said a Kunming official present at the dinner. “Everyone was shocked. I was shocked,” he said.
Real later explained that the team was under a strict dietary regime.
Fans were next to get a taste of life, Real Madrid-style. Hundreds of eager ticket-holding spectators awaiting the arrival of David Beckham, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and the rest of the superstar squad for their first official practice session on Saturday were left stranded when the team failed to show up.
Real blamed that debacle on a misunderstanding on the part of local organisers, saying they had never intended to practice that morning.
Then on Sunday, the nine-time champions of Europe decided to practice on a neighbouring field that offered no view to ticket-holding Chinese fans sitting in the stands of the original pitch.
Real said the field was rain-soaked and chewed up through use, which proved little consolation for those who had braved pouring rain for an hour to see their heroes.
Confusion about scheduling and strict regulations including no access to Real’s newest superstar David Beckham, meanwhile, have angered the Chinese media.
“All the Chinese media are dissatisfied because there is so little to write about,” said Henry Yu, a reporter from Beijing.
One Real Madrid official defended the club, saying: “We haven’t received any complaints so far.” He may not be aware that it is also part of Chinese custom to give face by not criticising guests’ cultural gaffes or rude behaviour.
Real Madrid are on a three-week promotional stint through Asia that includes Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Marketing officials have said the club will pocket eight million euros from the jaunt.
Last week, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) chief Peter Velappan described Real Madrid as “bloodsuckers” and “mercenaries”. Real said they were disappointed in the comments and defended their actions.
“We know what we are, we know what we are doing, we have nothing to hide,” said Stephan Attia, chief executive of Asia Sports Development, Real’s Asia marketing group.