BANGKOK: Real Madrid and their new signing David Beckham arrived in Thailand yesterday to a rapturous welcome on the last leg of an Asian tour which has been littered with public relations gaffes.
The England captain almost disappeared under a pile of flower garlands as enthusiastic Thai officials greeted him, while former World Footballers of the Year Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo each received a couple of orchid necklaces each.
About 600 screaming fans were held back by a line of policemen outside the team's central Bangkok hotel.
Security for the visit was increased after a bomb attack on the JW Marriott Hotel in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on Tuesday. Two bodyguards are accompanying each player, while Beckham, Ronaldo, Zidane and Figo will get several security officers each.
“I can speak Spanish so I've come to welcome them,” a teenage girl said, as Beckham walked past waving and Ronaldo grinned at the fans. “I like Luis Figo because he's handsome and a good player.”
One fan said he felt sorry for the more established Real Madrid players because Beckham was drawing so much publicity.
“Thai women really love Beckham so much,” said 11-year-old Aldecho Dari.
Real Madrid were scheduled to play a match against the Thai national side this evening, but a full training session in front of paying fans yesterday was cancelled because the team was tired after their travels to China, Japan and Hong Kong.
Organisers said the team would do some light training instead and around 6,000 supporters had been given free tickets.
The Spanish champions disappointed thousands of fans by cancelling a similar training event in Hong Kong because of fatigue but had to issue a public apology later when players were spotted in the island's most popular night clubs.
Earlier in the tour, Chinese officials were left bewildered when the team walked out of a dinner reception after only 20 minutes. – Reuters