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Beckham is a Real mistake - Javier.

Byline: By Tim Hanlon

David Beckham could be forgiven if he shows signs of feeling the heat amid all the hype surrounding his debut for Real Madrid in Beijing.

It is mid-summer in the Chinese capital and guaranteed to be sauna hot. But unless Beckham is really on the ball, his celebrated golden locks could get an unexpected blow-dry from a Chinese Dragon XI - Real's opponents in the friendly.

Commercially, Beckham has already proved he is bigger in the Far East than Hong Kong, and probably even King Kong.

But it is now time for the posing to stop.

And there is an urgent need for him to start disarming the cynics.

As it is, his celebrity appears to alarm almost as many as it seduces.

Among the former is the one-time Spain coach Javier Clemente, who firmly believes buying Beckham was a "mistake" and that he could prove a disruptive influence.

Clemente fears Madrid paid over the odds for the England skipper, whose transfer has cost the Primera Liga champions pounds 25m.

But the veteran coach, now boss of Espanyol in Barcelona, believes a more corrosive problem could be disharmony in the Madrid squad, with the risk of jealousy among the established stars.

"I think the decision to buy Beckham is a mistake as he is very expensive and Real Madrid don't need him as they already have Figo," Clemente said.

"Beckham is a very good player, but he has a lot of other things going on in his life and these could cause problems."

Beckham, now 28, quit Manchester United during the summer and opted for Madrid because he is convinced it will improve him as a player. Madrid, in turn, hope it will raise their profile even further, and on their tour of the Far East they have been stunned by the popularity.

So far it has been a vast untapped market for Madrid and one they are convinced they can exploit.

Beckham already has it cornered, having earned millions on a whistle-stop tour in the close-season. But regardless of his spectacular sponsorship and marketing deals, Madrid need him to justify his reputation as a world-class footballer.

However, with Spanish clubs increasingly dependent on foreign signings like Beckham to bolster their squads, Clemente reckons the trend to buy from abroad is having a detrimental impact of the national game - money means everything.

"The league is very strong, but you need to look at how many foreign players there are," he said.

"Look at Real Madrid - Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo, Makelele.

"There's a lot of money in Spanish football which is very important to its success."

* ROOKIE Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard is aiming to follow the Peter Schmeichel route to stardom - by yelling at his defenders. Schmeichel's verbal outbursts are the stuff of Old Trafford legend.

"The defenders want me to shout at them," said the 24-year-old, who made an encouraging debut in last night's stunning 4-1 win over Juventus at the Giants Stadium.

"In the dressing room before the match, they told me to make sure I was talking to them.

"They wanted to get on top of them and tell them where to go.

"It's something that great defenders demand because it doesn't matter how good they are, they need communication."
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2003
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