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Football: BECKHAM HAS GOT TO SLAY DRAGON.

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 today.

It is mid-summer in the Chinese capital and guaranteed to be sauna hot.

But unless Beckham is really on the ball, his 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 on the Chinese mainland 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 25million.

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.

"Beckham was very expensive and Real don't need him as they already have Figo - the decision to buy was a mistake," said Clemente.

"Beckham is a very good player, but all the other things going on in his life could cause problems."

Beckham, 28, quit Manchester United during the summer and opted for Madrid because he is convinced it will improve him as a player.

Real, in turn, hope it will raise their profile even further, and on their tour of the Far East have been stunned by the popularity of the England skipper.

So far the region has been a vast untapped market for Madrid - now they are convinced they can exploit it.

Beckham already has it cornered, having earned millions on a whistle-stop tour in the close-season.

But regardless of his marketing magic, Real need Beckham to justify his reputation as a world -class player.

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BECKHAM: Real debut
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2003
Words:352
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