Becks appeal cools in Asia

David Beckham’s move to Major League Soccer may have been good for his wallet but it has apparently not helped his popularity in Asia.

Empty seats and surprising indifference greeted soccer’s greatest star, who was mobbed like a rockstar on his first trip to the region, as he completed an Asian tour with LA Galaxy.

Just 11 000 paying fans turned up to watch Galaxy’s lethargic performance here, leaving most of Hong Kong Stadium empty, while similar numbers watched the team in Shanghai.

Dozens, rather than hundreds, of supporters greeted the former Real Madrid and Manchester United man at Hong Kong airport, while screaming fans at the team hotel were notable by their absence.

Beckham, whose England future has also been clouded by the United States move, thanked fans for an “incredible” welcome. However, he may have been wondering why so many of them didn’t turn up.

“It’s been incredible,” he said. “It’s been a great tour for us.
Everywhere we’ve gone, people have been amazing to the team and showed us lot of love.”

Loyal supporters here said Beckham’s profile had dipped since his transfer to Galaxy on a reported $250-million, five-year deal.

“The fact that you don’t get to watch the American league here so much, and the fact he’s not playing in the English Premier League or in Spain is a big factor,” said fan Chuck Lee.

“He’s handsome, he’s attractive,” said Esther Chan. “But I think the Galaxy is not so good at football.”

The sentiment was borne out on the field as Beckham looked in a different class to his teammates, who were content to feed him the ball and wait for his pin-point crosses.

Despite two converted penalties by the Englishman, Galaxy were beaten by South China invitational in a poor advertisement for US football—and, by extension, for the Beckham brand.

However, he said the tour had been important for the team, coached by Ruud Gullit, as it prepares for the upcoming US season.

“Team spirit can win a game or a championship,” Beckham said.

“In these three weeks we’ve had good bonding between the players on and off the field. That’s what it’s all about.”

Beckham-mania was at its height in 2001, when adoring crowds followed his every move on visits to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand with Manchester United.

One Bangkok fan placed a sculpture of his idol in a Buddhist temple, while a three-metre chocolate image of the young midfielder was created in Japan.

During the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, Beckham’s distinctive mohawk hairdo spawned legions of imitators. In 2003, 1 000 screaming fans greeted him as he arrived in Japan with Real Madrid.

Last year, Beckham played in front of huge crowds in Sydney and Wellington, with 15 000 schoolchildren turning up just to watch him train.

And the current tour has not been without its moments. Hundreds of fans and media caused chaos at a Shanghai hospital when Beckham visited leukaemia patients there.

However many Asian fans have shown they are no longer willing to pay high ticket prices to watch Beckham, proving the adage that one player cannot carry the team.

“This is the Galaxy, not Real Madrid,” commented Hong Kong Football Association chairman Brian Leung. - AFP

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