MADRID: After signing Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez believes one of the pieces missing from his millionaire's jigsaw is an England international of the highest calibre.
That means either David Beckham or Michael Owen, the only English players with the profile necessary to boost the club's global reach for marketing and merchandising purposes.
This week's excited talk of a Real bid for Manchester United's Beckham could therefore be just the start of long months of speculation linking one of the game's most feted players with the world's biggest club.
At the moment, the acres of newsprint being devoted to the Beckham story amount to little more than pre-match sparring ahead of the two sides meeting in the quarter-finals of the Champions League in April.
Real's sporting director Jorge Valdano told Madrid sports daily As that commentating on the Beckham situation would be unhelpful so close to the quarter-final.
“This is not the time to talk about it,” Valdano said. “We're in the middle of the season and with the United games just around the corner.
“Any comments now could get us into a debate that would affect the build-up to the game.”
Unfortunately, Valdano followed up those remarks with just the sort of ambiguous comment beloved of headline writers.
“All you could say is that taking into account the major moves Real Madrid have made in recent years Beckham looks to be the sort of player that would fit in with our policy.”
Those words were translated in England on Wednesday as an unequivocal statement that Real were about to make midfielder Beckham their next big project.
A bid for Beckham would certainly not be out of character for president Perez, who has brought in one world class player every year since being elected to the top job at the Bernabeu.
First he prised Figo away from Barcelona, then Zidane from Juventus and finally Ronaldo, after an interminable transfer saga, from Inter Milan.
That makes a Real bid for Beckham more likely than, say, last week's equally breathless reports that Arsenal's French midfield pair Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira were about to decamp to the Bernabeu for a fee in the region of US$45 million.
Beckham was asked at an England news conference in London on Tuesday if he would like to play for Real.
“Real are a great club with great players and tradition,” Beckham said. “Any player would be honoured to be spoken about by Real Madrid. Of course I'm honoured.”
That three-line response gave rise to a five-page special on Beckham in Spain's Marca newspaper, as well as front pages in rival publications As and El Mundo Deportivo.
The potential problem for Real and coach Vicente del Bosque would be finding a space for Beckham in the first team.
Figo already occupies the right midfield slot. A place in central midfield looks problematic, too, as a line-up of Figo, Beckham and Zidane playing behind Raul and Ronaldo would leave just one place for a defensive, ball-winning midfielder.
Valdano declined on Wednesday to comment on possible Real interest and there is unlikely to be direct word from the club until the end of the season, when Perez and Valdano finalise their transfer objectives for the new campaign.
Between now and then, expect the comment and analysis to continue unabated, as every last drop of meaning is squeezed out of comments from Valdano, Perez, Del Bosque and Beckham himself. – Reuters