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Bending the World to Beckham's Will

Fame, family spice up life of soccer's biggest name

June 09, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

David Beckham is taking it easy, on holiday, kicking back.

Sprawled in a chair at the Galaxy's new stadium in Carson, international soccer's most engagingly complex personality and highest-paid player is unwinding. The stress of another dogfight of a season with Manchester United is ebbing away.

England's captain is wearing white sneakers, a pair of baggy blue jeans -- the kind with all sorts of pockets and straps and doodads -- a white T-shirt and a giant silver watch that almost dwarfs his left wrist.

The topic is the United States, a country Beckham enjoys and, indeed, admires.

Four of the reasons why are seated alongside him, starry-eyed to varying degrees and very much hanging on to his every word. They are Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly, Shannon MacMillan and Aly Wagner, the past, present and future of the world champion U.S. women's national team.

Beckham is warming to his theme.

"You'd never get 100,000 fans turning up for a women's football game in England," he says. "You'd never get that. It's just amazing that that can happen in America. It doesn't happen anywhere else in the world."

Because Beckham, 28, was only a teenager in 1991 when Fawcett and Lilly helped the U.S. win its first world championship, was he even aware of the China '91 tournament?

Fawcett and Lilly cringe. "We're old ladies," they cry out, laughing.

"Yeah, of course," says Beckham. "I'm a football fan. Whether it's English football or European football or world football or women's football, it doesn't matter. I was aware of it going on, but obviously being in England you didn't see much of it."

And is he really a fan of the women's game?

"Of course I support it, and not just because they're sat here," he answers, nodding his head in the direction of the U.S. players. "I've always said that I support women's football.

"People have asked me what I'll do when I finish playing. People always expect you to go into coaching or management. For me, I just want to have soccer schools, for boys and girls.

"Every time I've said that, people have always turned around to me and said, 'Girls and women? Why?' But I think it's important that everyone enjoys the sport, not just men. They think it's a macho sport. It's not.

"Women's football in England and in Europe will never get the support that it's got in America. It's going to be hard. It's never going to be as big as it is over here. It could be. It could be. I'd love it to be."

Lilly interrupts. "It's taken us a long time too," she says.

"Yes, but you've taken it to a level that hopefully we can get it to," Beckham says. "It's a level that women over in England would dream of. As I said, I'd love it to happen."

"So who do you pick to win the Women's World Cup?" Wagner asks.

"You," Beckham replies, meaning the U.S. "You're the strongest team."

Wagner can't resist taking it a step further.

"Is the San Diego Spirit your favorite WUSA team?" she asks.

"Of course it is," Beckham answers with a grin. He is relaxed, at ease, enjoying himself.

In Europe, things are far, far different.


Beckham and his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria, and their two children, Brooklyn and Romeo, had no sooner left England and headed to the U.S. on vacation when the rumors began curving across the continent like Beckham free kicks.

First it was AC Milan, the new European champion owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, that allegedly was intent on luring the family to Italy's fashion capital.

That was a couple of weeks ago, but the rumor was quickly scotched by Adriano Galliani, an AC Milan vice president, who said that the asking price was too high.

"To see him in Milan is impossible," Galliani told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "It takes a lot of money, too much money."

In any case, there is a conflict. Beckham has a sponsorship contract with one telephone company. AC Milan is sponsored by a rival. So much for Milan.

Then it was Barcelona's turn. The Spanish club is in the midst of a presidential election set for June 15. One of the six candidates, Joan Laporta, has promised to bring Beckham to Nou Camp if elected.

He has talked to Manchester United and offered in the neighborhood of $50 million for Beckham. Never mind that Barcelona already is $269 million in debt.

"I view this as a great price for Beckham," Laporta told England's Sunday Express newspaper. "He is one of the few players in the world capable of earning the money back for you in commercial revenue alone."

Radomir Antic, Barcelona's coach, has ridiculed the rumors.

"So far they are rumors and nothing else," he said.

But last week United's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, who has called Beckham "the most recognized footballer in the world, perhaps the most recognized person," admitted Manchester might be tempted by a $50-million offer.

And Beckham? What does he make of all this?

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