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An Englishman Abroad: Beckham's Spanish Adventure by Phil Ball

Release date: 12th August, 2004
Publisher: Ebury Press

List Price: 10.99
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Michael Owen's and Jonathan Woodgate's relatively hasty departures for Real Madrid over the last few weeks have been in stark contrast to the long drawn-out affair which eventually saw David Beckham leave Old Trafford for the Spanish capital. Officially, the transfer took place in mid-June of last year, but in truth, the irreparable split between Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson ensured the move was probably arranged six months earlier.

Phil Ball has lived in San Sebastian, on the northern Spanish coast, for 13 years and, for a man who has already written extensively about Spanish football, the arrival of Beckham at Real Madrid must have appeared like a gift. Ultimately though, An Englishman Abroad falls between two stools; at its best when concentrating on football and directly related matters, including the marketing aspects of Beckham's transfer, less so when delving into gossip-led or unnecessary detail. Was Steve McManaman really pining for the "panting of racehorse breath" while living in Madrid and is the information regarding Beckham's underpants essential when describing his Real medical?

By contrast, Ball's description of Beckham's impact in La Liga and upon Spanish football is first class, starting with his opening game when the Englishman found the net after just 126 seconds, one of only three league goals he scored all season. Furthermore, Ball introduces the reader to the notion of 'fast food football', a phrase he acknowledges was first used by Santiago Segurola, Spain's most influential football writer. It defines the process whereby stars such as Beckham, Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo have been signed to satisfy the heightened expectations of fans or, to put it more accurately, to "cater for impatient consumerism of the younger football cliente." The phrase is equally appropriate when used to describe Real's most recent acquisitions.

Given Madrid's stated intentions of developing a global sports brand, football's marketing considerations are also well covered. So, for example, Ball can tell us that whereas on the day Zidane signed for Real in 2001, 300 of his name-emblazoned shirts were sold, when Beckham signed, 8,000 of his number 23 shirts were shifted at 72 euros a time.

Aside from marketing, political considerations are never far away when the topic is Real Madrid and, as Ball regularly points out, Beckham was well advised to say the right things at the right time. It accounts for the black and white split of public opinion when it comes to the Spanish and Real - supporters either love them or hate them. In this respect, moving to Real Madrid from Manchester United would have made no difference to Beckham. He may not have grasped much of the language and supporters may have been unsure of his skills, but when it came to dealing with opposition vehemence, he had been well trained.

David Beckham is clearly equally well versed when it comes to selling the brand as Real's marketing-related trips to China and Japan, described in great depth here, proved. Of all Real Madrid's 'Galactic Gallery', none compare with Beckham when it comes to marketing. The reader is left with the impression that although Becks cost the Spaniards £25m, it was money well spent. Indeed, Ball even goes as far as exploring Beckham's sartorial and image impact upon Madrid's gay scene. It's an innovative angle - I do not recall reading of similar aspects when Vinnie Jones was transferred to Leeds for example.

This book has plenty of good historical material, as could be expected from the author of White Storm, the English language history of Real Madrid. Similarly, there are plenty of translations probably not available on a WH Smith Teach Yourself Spanish tape. As for a follow-up, the author is probably researching Owen's and Woodgate's background in preparation for the definitive expatriate footballer's guide.

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