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Beckham Deal Has Aftershocks

June 23, 2003|GRAHAME L. JONES

It's going to take a long, long time for the fallout to settle from last week's David Beckham bombshell.

Strip the story of its dollar signs, marketing muck and gossip-column garbage, not to mention the outright lies told on each side, and there are serious soccer implications to the England captain's move from Manchester United to Real Madrid.

Like the proverbial stone in the pond, dropping Beckham into the Spanish hinterland will have all sorts of ripple effects, and the waves created promise to be as interesting to watch as the initial splash.

They might begin washing ashore as early as today, when Real Madrid is supposed to make a decision on whether Vicente del Bosque is to remain as coach.

Del Bosque, 52, has been in charge for four years, during which time he has won the Holy Grail of club trophies, the European Champions Cup, twice and reached the semifinals twice. Real defeated Athletic Bilbao, 3-1, at Santiago Bernabeu stadium on Sunday to win the Spanish title for the 29th time, two of those championships coming in the Del Bosque era.

All the same, the coach expects to be given his walking papers. He said as much two weeks ago when asked about possibly coaching Beckham. His exact words: "I get the feeling I'm not going to be here anyway."

So who does Real Madrid have lined up as a successor? Beckham, almost certainly, must have known whom his coach was going to be before he signed on the dotted line.

There is one person it absolutely will not be: Sir Alex Ferguson. Despite the syrupy, public relations-spawned words fed into Ferguson's and Beckham's mouths last week, the two men can no longer stand each other.

Speculation in Britain is that Sven-Goran Eriksson, England's coach, will follow his star player to Spain. The Swede has hinted often enough that he yearns to return to club soccer.

But with the 2004 European Championship in Portugal only one year away and England's team in with a chance, Eriksson might stick around.

Real Madrid, therefore, might give Del Bosque one more season as caretaker, especially after he won the championship Sunday.

Then there is poor old Real midfielder Jose Maria Gutierrez, better known as Guti. He won't be dismissed by Real, but he probably will walk out anyway.

"It won't make me happy to leave my lifelong team, but I don't think there's any alternative," the 26-year-old Spanish international told the El Mundo newspaper shortly after Beckham's arrival was announced.

"I'm tired of banging into walls all the time. The doors are all closing for me.

"I was improving as a midfielder when the club signed [France's Zinedine] Zidane [in 2001]. Then I started to come on as a forward and along came Ronaldo [in 2002]. At the moment, I'm in the national team as a midfielder and Beckham's coming.

"I'm a professional and I want to play football. If it's not here, it will have to be somewhere else."

Chances are Jorge Valdano, the former Argentine international who is Real Madrid's sporting director, has a long list of Real Madrid players who soon will be "somewhere else."

No matter how highly paid they are, top players don't like watching from the bench. "Play me or trade me" is an understandably common refrain.

Already, Inter Milan, sensing blood in the water, has made overtures toward Real's Portuguese midfielder, Luis Figo. That might be a ruse, however, because the younger, faster, more versatile Guti has mentioned Milan as one of the cities he might like to explore.

As for Manchester United, the $41.3 million that Beckham's sale fetched (in installments over several years) is hardly needed if Ferguson wants to go player-shopping -- and he does.

There is no end to the number of names that have been trotted out as soon-to-be United players. Chief among them, though, are Brazilian forward Ronaldinho of Paris Saint-Germain, Australian forward Harry Kewell of Leeds United, English goalkeeper Paul Robinson, also of Leeds, and Irish winger Damian Duff of Blackburn Rovers.

But Manchester United, despite its groaning coffers -- the club has an estimated worth of $656 million -- is not the only wealthy team swaggering and staggering around the block with sacks of gold

Arsenal, still bitter over losing its English Premier League championship to United this season, also is chasing Kewell and Robinson, among others. If Coach Arsene Wenger succeeds, he will help himself and deal Ferguson a double blow at the same time, a notion that pleases the Frenchman mightily.

Liverpool, which snatched the English League Cup from under Manchester United's nose this season, is keen to acquire Duff, and Coach Gerard Houllier's interest will drive the Irish star's price up, if nothing else.

Barcelona, angry at the way it was treated by Manchester in the Beckham matter, is going to try to lure Ronaldinho, 23, to Spain, and not just out of spite. Coach Radomir Antic's side also has voiced interest in Kewell.

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