Football: Life in the Real world; STEVE McMANAMAN EXCLUSIVE: WHAT BECKS WILL FACE AT WORLD'S BIGGEST CLUB MACCA: IT'S SINK OR SWIM, WITH NO SECOND CHANCES .. BUT IF YOU WIN IN STYLE YOU'LL BE A HERO FOR EVER.
GIVEN the turbulence behind his very public split with Manchester United, the lure of a move abroad for David Beckham is surely getting stronger by the day.
But just what can the England captain expect, should - as now seems increasingly likely - he accepts the pull of the peseta, or, indeed, euro, and head to Madrid or Barcelona?
Steve McManaman has already pioneered that journey, his trophy haul in four years with Spanish giants Real making him the most successful English footballing export of all time.
For the former Liverpool midfielder, life in Madrid has been a quite unique, and often wonderful experience.
Yet he readily admits that it is not all song and sangria, despite being part of the most celebrated team in world football.
Macca may be the forgotten man of the English game, but in Madrid he is a massive crowd favourite - goals in a Champions League final and in the semi against hated rivals Barcelona offering him hero status.
"On the surface, it's the same routine for players in Spain as it is in England. You train the same, you have the same conditioning, the same number of games, and similar preparation,'' explained McManaman.
"But life is very different. It's a different culture and a different mentality, and just fitting in - especially with a new language to learn - is a real struggle.
"Most people don't manage it, they are gone after a year.''
McManaman believes that the biggest test he faced was the demands of an alien culture, and the lack of time given to new recruits.
"In England, new players are given a couple of seasons to fit in. Not here. It's sink or swim, and most sink, because you have to perform from virtually day one.
"The key is, of course, you have to fit into the football and, at Madrid, that means playing in a certain way. It's not enough to win, you have to do it with style and excite the fans.
"Do that - which isn't easy - and you can just about get by without the language. Zinedine Zidane didn't speak Spanish for a long time and it didn't really matter, because he was so quick to adapt to the football.
"It took me the best part of a year to come to terms with the language, but I was lucky because I fitted quickly into a team which won the Champions League in my first season.
"I've seen so many big players come over here, with big reputations, and leave again within 12 months. Barely a goodbye, and on to the next one. You have to be able to produce.''
McManaman admits that his hardest work came in those initial six months, in his attempts to immerse himself in a new culture. "If you play for Madrid, you have to speak Spanish, because not so many people speak English here in the capital. It's different in coastal Spain, but here in Madrid you speak Spanish,'' he said.
"Only a couple of people speak English around the club. When I came, Clarence Seedorf and Christian Karembeu helped me, but I remember after the European Cup final, feeling set apart, not really in the middle of things.
"We were in the dressing room, celebrating, going mad singing all these Madrid songs, old club songs that meant so much to the players and fans. But I didn't really know the words, and you feel left out.
"You've got to do the interviews too. You get a couple of months, and then the press are in, and you have to do them in Spanish. No excuses about not understanding, because it doesn't wash with the club.
"You've got to make a real effort. I did that, had lessons every day, and got right out there and got involved in Madrid life, it's the only way.
"The people love you for it. You go out and they don't hassle you, don't mob you, but if you take the time to say hello, be polite and have a little chat in Spanish, they respect you.
"Coming over here, it can be wonderful - because you are a real hero, really revered, but they give you distance. I go out often - and we are allowed to over here, to relax, unwind. You go to a restaurant, and the thing is, you can't pay. There are 'Madrid' restaurants, the owners won't take any money, no matter how big the bill. So you end up giving tips for hundreds of euros, just to cover it.''
For all Beckham's celebrity, should he choose Madrid, then he will not - as Sven Goran Eriksson suggested - require extra security, or special arrangements to accommodate his fame.
Raul, Madrid's No.7, is bigger in the Spanish capital than Beckham ever could be, and has achieved god-like status for his record-breaking achievements at the age of 26.
Yet he, like Macca, can move around without hassle. "We get staff discount in the club shop, and the players go in there with the fans, buy things, no problems. Raul's a god, but he comes out with the lads.
"When I first came, of course it was strange, there were things I missed - like Frosties for a start. But if you put the effort in, they give it to you back.'' One great difference is the politics at each club that can be so poisonous, and introduce an element of continual uncertainty to players that does not exist in England.
"In England, within a club, politics never affects the players, it does not enter the equation. Here, it is a fact of life the players have to deal with,'' said McManaman.
"To someone from England, that can be really hard, because you don't understand it at first. But you can be bought by one president of a club, who promotes you as his key asset, and the next year he can be gone.''
Macca won his own personal battle when Florentino Perez took over as president of Madrid, and wanted new faces. A year later, he had scored against Barca in the Champions League semi-final, to record the first win on enemy territory in 20 years.
Ironically, should Beckham also make the journey to the Spanish capital, then he may face exactly the same nightmare, because Perez is up for re-election next year, and a new man would bring out the new broom.
For McManaman, a bit of Scouse determination to succeed, a sense of humour, and the ability to fit into a great side did the job.
You'll find it helps, David.
MACCA IN LA LIGA
Season 2000-01 2001-02 2002-03
Mins on pitch 1965 1296 556
Goals 2 2 1
Shots on target 9 6 1
Shots off target 8 5 2
Goal assists 5 1 2
Total passes 1202 811 338
Pass completion 82% 83% 85%
Total crosses 30 12 4
Cross completion 27% 25% 25%
Dribbles and runs 123 78 22
Dribble completion 78% 85% 64%
Fouls 23 17 8
Yellow cards 3 2 0
REPRODUCED FROM THE OPTA INDEX
CHEERIO, SEE YOU SOON: Steve McManaman and David Beckham shake hands after Manchester United's Champions League exit to Real Madrid at Old Trafford. Shortly they could be team-mates at the Bernabeu; EURO GLORY: Macca with the European Cup after his semi-final goal against Barcelona (above); SPANISH HIGHS: The home McManaman shares with wife Victoria, who he married last year (left)