As the latest Galáctico to join Real Madrid back in 2003, England captain David Beckham immediately endeared himself to the Madrid fans – as he snubbed rivals Barcelona to join the club.
Manchester United and Barca had announced they had reached a deal for Beckham to go to the Nou Camp, but he opted instead to join the reigning Spanish champions for €35 million. By signing a four-year contract, he became the third Englishman to play for Los Blancos after Laurie Cunningham and Steve McManaman.
With new head coach Carlos Queiroz also making the switch from the Red Devils over the summer, Beckham settled in straight away and started life at the Santiago Bernabeu in fine form. His first goal came when he scored the final goal in the 3-0 second leg win over RCD Mallorca, to help Madrid to win the Spanish Super Cup.
In a star-studded side containing three former FIFA World Player of the Year recipients – Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Luís Figo – in addition to Roberto Carlos, Raúl and Iker Casillas, Beckham proved he was able to hold his own by scoring five times in his first 16 matches. This included netting a goal less than three minutes into his La Liga debut.
Beckham’s first season ended in disappointment for the club, as they failed to live up to pre-season expectations. Madrid finished the season in fourth place of La Liga, lost in the final of the Copa del Rey and were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the quarter-final stage.
In October 2004, Beckham was sent off in a league match against Valencia. After being shown a yellow card, he was judged to have sarcastically applauded the referee’s decision and was given a second yellow card for his actions. However, his suspension was cancelled on appeal.
His discipline didn’t get much better in 2004/05 – as, on December 3 2005, Beckham was sent off for the third time that season in a league match against Getafe CF. However, things would pick up for the Englishman, who claimed the highest number of assists in La Liga for the season.
Beckham was so close but so far to silverware once again – as Real Madrid finished second to Barcelona in the 2005/06 La Liga and crashed out to Arsenal in the last 16 of the Champions League.
He initially fell out of favour with new manager Fabio Capello, who opted to play the speedier José Antonio Reyes on the right wing. To make matters worse, Real lost seven of the first nine matches Beckham started that season.
On January 11, 2007, Beckham announced that he would leave the club at the end of the season, to join MLS side LA Galaxy. Two days later, Cappello stated that Beckham had played his last game for Real Madrid – although he would continue to train with the team.
However, Capello later backtracked on that statement less than a month later – as he allowed Beckham to rejoin the team for a La Liga meeting with Real Sociedad. Beckham immediately showed Capello what he had been missing, by scoring a 27-yard free kick to level the scores on the way to a 2–1 victory for Real.
Beckham then played a pivotal part in all three of Madrid’s goal in the home tie of their Champions League round of 16 tie with Bayern Munich. It wasn’t enough to see the Spanish side through though – as Bayern prevailed on the away goals rule – but his performance saw Munich goalkeeper Oliver Kahn label Beckham’s performance as “World class.”
His final appearance for Madrid came in the last La Liga game of the season, but the 3-1 win over RCD Mallorca would throw up contrasting emotions for Beckham.
With Real 0-1 down, Beckham limped off and he could only watch as Reyes – his replacement – scored twice to help the club claim their 30th La Liga title. Real finished level on points with Barcelona, but edged the title due to their superior head-to-head record – as Beckham claimed his first La Liga title, to cap a remarkable six months.
Beckham’s turnaround was so great that, several weeks before Beckham’s scheduled arrival at LA Galaxy, Madrid’s management contacted the ownership group of the American club about reacquiring the player. However, they were quickly turned down.
Although he only claimed two pieces of silverware during his time in the Spanish capital, Forbes magazine reported after his departure that Beckham had been the main reason for Madrid’s huge increase in merchandise sales – a total reported to top US$600 million during Beckham’s four years at the club.
Speaking at Beckham’s unveiling at Madrid in 2003, club president Florentino Pérez said: “He is a great player, who is going to become part of the club’s great history.
“He is a man of our times and a symbol of modern-day stardom. What is certain is (that) Real have signed Beckham because he’s a great footballer and a very dedicated professional.”
Looking at Beckham’s time at the club, it certainly would be hard to argue with any of that.