England's David Beckham takes a shot during practice Monday, May 30, 2005 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
NEW YORK In America, David Beckham can walk the streets in relative peace.
In Europe, South America and Asia, he is the most well-known athlete, a combination of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, with a little celebrity zest thrown in because his wife, Victoria Adams, is the former Posh Spice. There was even a movie with his name in the title, ''Bend It Like Beckham.''
He's not just a soccer player, he's a phenomenon, oozing charm that can spin an audience like a free kick.
When he walked into a news conference in midtown Manhattan on Monday, photographers swarmed around him, like bees surrounding a hive, their strobes flashing at a blinding pace. But out on the streets ah, what a pleasure for him, even though his profile in the United States is starting to become more known.
He's a natural for New York's glamor the Beckhams named their eldest son Brooklyn because Victoria found out she was pregnant while the dynamic duo were in the Big Apple.
''I think last summer I had a problem with quite a few paparazzi here,'' Beckham said. ''I was with my wife at the time. But walking around the shops today, it's been really good. People have been coming up to me and saying, 'Nice to meet you' and 'It's great that you're here.' So being noticed, it's more this time than I've probably ever had. But it's been nice. It's refreshing.''
The world's most recognized footballer plays his first professional game in the United States on Tuesday night, captaining England against Colombia in the final game of his nation's two-game tour.
He's not just a 30-year-old midfielder who stars for England and Real Madrid, he's a style icon. The London tabloids track his hairstyle from buzz cut to corn rows to mohawk, note when gel or blonde dye is applied. He's tailed endlessly by the relentless British press just last weekend, the Daily Mirror headlined a story ''POSH AND BECKS' BUBBLY BOOZATHON,'' an account of how they supposedly spent Thursday night in Seville, Spain.
''I've gotten used to it now. I've had it for quite a few years,'' Beckham said. ''Sometimes you enjoy it, and sometimes you don't. When it involves my children, then I don't enjoy it. But when I'm here with the team, you can have some fun and enjoy it. Yeah, it's OK.''
Ronaldo, in the news Monday when he was dropped from Brazil's roster in an apparent row with his coach, already has played in a pair of World Cup finals, leading his nation to victory in 2002. Beckham hasn't reached that lofty level. He yearns to captain England, where the sport began, to its first championship since 1966.
His ability on the pitch field, for us Yanks gained him attention. But he transcends the 18-49 male audience.
''First of all, he is one of the best players in the world and has been so for many, many years,'' England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said. ''Then I suppose if you ask the females, he is supposed to be a nice-looking boy young man. He's for sure the most popular football player you can find today in all the world. And why is that? He has charisma.''
He works a crowd like a polished politician, his answers as precise as the free kicks that first gained him fame. Here's just a snippet:
Would he ever consider playing in Major League Soccer, perhaps for the MetroStars, a New York-based reporter asked?
''I love America,'' he replied. ''I've been here on holiday many times to Los Angeles and New York, and I like it. So one day, maybe.''
The very next questioner, from a London tabloid, asked whether he would play for an English club again?
''I'm happy in Real Madrid. I want to finish my career there,'' Beckham answered.
On Thursday, he'll be in Carson, Calif., to launch the U.S. version of The David Beckham Academy, a sister version of the soccer school that is opening in London this summer.
''If it produces the new Mia Hamm, you know it's special and it worked,'' he said.
Like Pele, he sounds like a soccer evangelical.
''For kids in L.A. and in America, especial ghettos, football, soccer is a massive thing,'' he said. ''Up until a certain age, kids love playing soccer. I think once when the kids go into college, I'm not sure what happens then on. I know there's the whole soccer moms thing, they take kids down to play soccer on the weekends.''
Thirteen minutes after he began, Beckham was done answering questions. There will be marketing launches this week and television appearances. ''Becks and the City'' would work as a television show.
Cable, of course.
Football is just a part of being Beckham, which is a fulltime job unto itself.
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