The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Spanish sun shines on the ‘outsider’

Anyone who has admired the way David Beckham has consistently fought back from injury and insult will have relished the midfielder’s duck-to-water immersion in the world’s most demanding league on Saturday evening, the Spanish sun seeming almost to delay its departure to shine some late rays on an Englishman abroad.

Where once the cruel cackle of Jeremiahs stalked a player dismissed as style without substance, now, after Madrid’s 2-1 victory over Real Betis in the Bernabeu, all that can be heard is the welcome pop of Jeroboams being opened.

La Liga began with Beckham scoring and creating, earning the approval of Real Madrid’s supporters and, most importantly, his teammates. Beckham’s arrival at the home of some of the world’s most remarkable talents has been described as almost a Jim’ll Fix It absurdity with an awed, accidental tourist from England sure to be out of his depth.

No chance. Zinedine Zidane, Raul and Luis Figo are so confident in the new boy’s ability that they constantly sought him out with the ball against lively opponents from Seville. At one point, Zidane and Beckham conducted a series of one-twos together, eliciting roars of “ole” from Madrid’s traditionally demanding fans. “Beckham is a simple, nice guy who is already having a lot of fun with the players here,” smiled his colleague, Solari.

With Steve McManaman departing, there are few who speak English at Real, really only the engaging Solari, Michel Salgado, who once enjoyed a seaside jaunt in England, and Luis Figo, who has switched from right to left to accommodate Beckham (and still delighted with his touch and turns).

For now, language is a problem. But the body language is good. Little gestures from his teammates signalled the acceptance process to be under way. Ronaldo even playfully tugged Beckham’s pony-tail when the Englishman scored. The touch-feely atmosphere continued when Beckham gave a sympathetic pat on the back to Zidane after one of the French magician’s spells had failed to work.

The outsider is being assimilated. He is a new force in Spanish football, a reality confirmed when Betis occasionally fouled him. “That was a compliment!” Beckham grinned. “I saw their players have a dig at Ronaldo so it was nice to be in that company.”

He has joined the company of galacticos, impressing all with his industry for the cause, even making a cool defensive header within 50 seconds before racing the length of the pitch to meet Ronaldo’s cross and score.

Beckham drilled long passes to Figo, sent a free-kick over and was blameless when Juanito headed in a corner from the excellent Joaquin.

Beckham wanted this dream move. To maintain the reverie, Beckham must keep performing like last week, week in and week out.

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