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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
A Real test for Beckham

By Peter Gould
BBC News Online, Madrid

Manchester United training session at the Bernabeu Stadium
The Bernabeu has a unique and intimidating atmosphere
If David Beckham is truly one of the world's great footballers, he will never have a better stage on which to prove it.

Arriving at the Bernabeu on match night, the sights and sounds of the famous stadium take your breath away.

It is more compact than you imagine, and you feel close to the pitch. But with 75,000 vocal Real Madrid fans stacked in the towering stands, the noise is incredible.


And the talent on display out on that immaculate turf is something to shout about.

This is one ground where you do not need a match programme or a board displaying the shirt numbers. The home team needs no introduction; to their Spanish supporters, these international all-stars are "Los Galacticos".

Real fans are a discerning lot, and know their football. But not surprisingly, they have become rather spoiled by the extravagant skills displayed week after week on this pitch.

Real Madrid's Brazilian player Roberto Carlos, left, goes for the ball against Manchester United's David Beckham
Roberto Carlos and David Beckham will be playing side by side
If they think one of their high-priced players is not performing, they will not hesitate to let him know.

Even the great Ronaldo has had to endure the displeasure of whistling fans who think he is carrying too much weight.

I have to say he looked pretty quick the night I saw him, but expectations in the Bernabeu are as high as the stands. Reputations count for nothing; you have to deliver.

Real Madrid was named by FIFA as the best football club of the 20th Century. Proud of its illustrious history, it is equally conscious of its status in the modern game.

Glorious past

No visit to the Bernabeu is complete without a viewing of the trophy room. I say "room", but actually it is a suite of rooms and adjoining corridors, spread over two floors. Helpfully, the club's website provides a map, so you don't get lost.

I tried to count all the trophies and was well into three figures when I finally gave up. It is a staggering array of silverware, and it must take an awful lot of polishing.

 Luis Figo holds up the Real Madrid shirt he will be wearing next season next to legendary former Real Madrid player Alfredo de Stefano
Real Madrid was home to football legend Alfredo de Stefano
This is the club, remember, that has won nine European Cups, before and after the competition was re-named the Champions' League, and three Intercontinental Cups. Then there are the dozens of domestic trophies and individual awards like golden boots and footballs.

This is conspicuous success, and while David Beckham will help to sell the brand around the world, he will also be expected to write another glittering chapter in the club's history.

Real Madrid has been bringing foreign stars to the Bernabeu for decades. Perhaps the club's most famous player, the great Alfredo Di Stefano, arrived in 1953 after some tricky transfer negotiations.

Barcelona had also wanted the Argentine goal scorer, but eventually his services were secured by Real. A legend was born as he guided the club to some of its greatest triumphs.

Will history repeat itself? The fans in the Bernabeu - and the rest of the footballing world - will be watching with interest when the Englishman takes his place on the stage.

Will David Beckham be a hit at Real Madrid?
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Beckham thrilled with Real deal
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