Globetrotters Real back at base after Asian tourPosted: Monday August 11, 2003 10:13 AM
MADRID (Reuters) -- Real Madrid returned to Spain on Monday after finishing a glitzy 18-day tour of the Far East tailored more to the needs of the club's marketing department than to those of its all-star squad.
Parading new signing David Beckham, the nine-times European champions covered close to 30,000 kilometers to play four exhibition matches in Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok.
The tour, primarily designed to help the club crack the lucrative Asian market, was an undoubted success on many fronts and demonstrated the immense pulling power Real now possess.
Even for training sessions, adoring fans packed the stadiums to the rafters. The welcome afforded to the players, in particular Beckham, frequently bordered on the hysterical.
There can be few who can now challenge Real's own claim that it is the most popular club in the world.
Financially the tour was also a success, with the club banking 10 million euros (US$11.28 million) in appearance money for the four exhibition games, while the exposure on television will ensure a major boost in the sales of club merchandise.
But although it played some eye-catching football during the tour, Real also managed to score some spectacular own goals.
The trip was littered with public relations gaffes that led to allegations of arrogance against the team and its directors from the local press.
The team disappointed thousands of fans in Hong Kong by cancelling a training session because of tiredness, only for several players to be spotted later in the island's most popular night clubs.
Real is appeared over an hour late for an open session, and Chinese officials were left bewildered when the team left a dinner function after only 20 minutes.
There must also be serious doubts as to the value of such an exhausting tour ahead of what is set to be another marathon season for most players at the club.
Many players hinted that they would have preferred to have prepared for the forthcoming season back in Spain or at a low-profile training camp rather than by undertaking meaningless exhibition matches against relatively poor quality opponents.
The endless round of publicity engagements and the restrictions on the players' freedom of movement as team hotels were laid siege to by fans inevitably took their toll on the patience of many.
"We can't deny that the tour has been very tiring and we will look forward to going home," fullback Michel Salgado told Spanish state television Sunday.
Beckham, who was in the starting lineup for all four matches, has adapted well to his new teammates and produced a series of assured performances that augur well for the future.
The England captain showed he is comfortable when called on to play a more central role, although coach Carlos Queiroz looks set to use him on the right and switch Luis Figo to the left.
Beckham struck up an immediate understanding with Ronaldo, looked as dangerous as ever from set pieces and was in good physical shape, although he still shies away from taking men on.
Despite looking as though he could afford to shed a few kilos, Ronaldo was in deadly form and Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo were clearly in good shape.
Real's Achilles' heel remains its defense and Queiroz will have his work cut out if he is to stop his side leaking goals at the back.
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