Some Spaniards dubbed it ‘hortera’. Hortera in English doesn’t have a direct translation but it is similar to cheesy or naff. A kid ran on to the pitch, somehow beating security guards and asked David Beckham why had he chosen Real Madrid over his beloved club, Barcelona. A hug and a new jersey with Beckham’s new number, which was conveniently the perfect size for the young boy, and it was all smiles. It was a poor attempt at theatre but the final scene was perfect. The handing over of the new shirt said it all: Beckham was there to sell shirts, and sell them he did.
Forget the fact that Steve McManaman had, just to name a couple of things, won two Champions Leagues and La Liga titles, forget the fact that Vinny Samways was getting sent off every second week, it was the arrival of Beckham that really opened the floodgates of La Liga exposure in English. La Liga had been beamed weekly into British homes for years but the arrival of the former United midfielder boosted the appeal of what was being dubbed the ‘Best League in the world’.
The first sign that ‘Brand Beckham’ was in town was at the unveiling. It was said that around 500 journalists packed in to see the newest Galactico. To put things into perspective, a few weeks before, Los Blancos played Juventus in the Champions League and it was attended by only 40 per cent of the media that showed up that June day in 2003. It was just the beginning.
The Economist reported that when Real Madrid sold their first 1m shirts of the season that the majority had been with ‘Beckham 23’ on the back. The club released their new shirt in Japan and then announced that they, with their new recruit, would be making an tour of Asia. It didn’t matter that some had reservations about what the London-born midfielder could bring football wise. Before the 2002-03 season ended there were rumours that Florentino’s Perez was unimpressed with the fact that Vicente del Bosque was not a fan of his latest fascination but Perez wanted his man.
Shockingly so for many, Del Bosque was shown the door after winning the League and a week later ‘Goldenballs’ was presented. Four years later, Beckham left with one League medal but what Los Merengues failed to do on the pitch, they did in the club shop with the tills ringing non-stop. Club officials say that shirt sales were boosted by an estimated 137 per cent with the arrival of the former England captain. When Cristiano Ronaldo was signed, most expected him to surpass that success but it was not to be the case.
Ronaldo has been a success but with the recession still hanging over Spain like a dark cloud at a picnic, sales have been nothing like in 2003. With his announcement this week that he would be leaving LA Galaxy, Perez has seen an opportunity to get Beckham back to the club, this time as an ambassador. The player has said he wants ‘one last challenge’ but the President responsible for bringing together Luis Figo, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane alongside Beckham will be confident that he can snare his man.
When London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games in 2005, Beckham was singled out for particular praise. His meetings with diplomats and dignitaries helped sway the votes needed to bag the games. He showed then that he could handle events and demonstrated what he can bring to meetings. The media still buzz around him and Real Madrid will want to use that. Florentino remains a great admirer and chances are that, should he accept an offer to return, he will have to be involved in more ‘hortera’ stunts like that June day in 2003. Let’s just hope that Real Madrid remembers to pack the perfect size shirts again.