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    Real win money but lose loyalty
Chen Xiangfeng
2005-07-25 05:48

Star-studded Spanish football giants Real Madrid completed their second China Tour in a rather lacklustre style both on and off the field, playing Beijing Guo'an at the Workers' Stadium on Saturday evening.

Their action was dampened by rare but torrential rain, which poured from morning until long after the final whistle and turned the field into a swamp

Fans watched a disappointing performance from their superstars, with the absence of club icon England international midfielder David Beckham heightening disapproval. He reportedly suffered a slight hamstring strain while taking a free kick against LA Galaxy in California last Monday.

"They were just playing with the ball on the turf. It was a really ugly match," said 18-year-old Zhang Ran.

"The organizers should have told us that Beckham would miss the match. It's like we have been cheated."

The club did not give any explanation before or after the match about Beckham's absence.

Like Zhang, many female spectaculars came to watch their idol rather than the match itself and were forced to leave the stadium in frustration.

Real needed a late penalty from substitute Ruis Figo to post a barely-earned 3-2 win over the China Super League club in the third match of their lucrative pre-season tour.

Boasting a galaxy starting line-up of world soccer superstars Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Michael Owen, Roberto Carlos and captain Raul Gonzales, Real were stunned into action after a Lu Jiang header gave the Chinese side a shock lead after 32 minutes.

The Spanish club struck back five minutes later through captain Raul.

Beijing's Serbian forward Branko Jelic restored the home team's lead in the 73rd minute with a solo performance.

Only after replacing Zidane, Owen and Ronaldo did the world's prestigious club rebound, thanks to serious efforts from substitutes like Guti, who equalized in the 80th minute.

Real Madrid, winners of a record 29 Spanish league titles, are widely recognized as the world's most successful club. They made their first trip to China in 2002 when they played the Chinese national team, causing a big stir.

All the big stars were fielded then and they staged a convincing show, crushing the national team 4-0.

But Saturday's show was a different ball game.

In the pouring rain, just over half of the 70,000 seats were filled in the stadium, in contrast to sell-out crowds in the United States when Real played their first two tour games.

They began their six-match pre-season tour with a 3-1 win over Mexico's Chivas Guadalajara and a 2-0 victory against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the United States.

Right before the Beijing match, 600-yuan (US$74) tickets were selling for 50 yuan (US$6.1), 180-yuan (US$22) ones for 30 (US$3.6).

The Spanish club will play two games in Japan this week before finishing the money-spinning trip with a friendly in Bangkok.

Cash rush

In an Internet survey by the web company, more than 96 per cent of Chinese fans said Real had come to China with the sole goal of making money. About 62 per cent said they wouldn't support Real if they came again, and another 27 per cent said they were bored by the show.

According to the reports, Real's four-day China tour will earn them at least US$4 million, including a five-minute free kick show in Tianjin, which cost the organizers a stunning 5 million yuan (US$617,000).

More than 20,000 fans spent up to 800 yuan (US$98), almost half the monthly salary of many ordinary people.

The club has also been harshly criticized for late attendance at press conferences and lack of arrangements to answer reporters' questions.

On the first day, the organizers cancelled a planned visit to a park in Xianghe town, Hebei Province, without telling fans.

The next day, one of Beijing's biggest shopping malls had to be closed to the public to give the stars isolated shopping time.

The only "real" goal of Real's trip - an agreement between Beijing Guo'an and Real Madrid - has ended in deadlock.

There have been speculations that the sides would sign a deal during this trip, but Guo'an President Luo Ning said any deal has been postponed and the two sides need further discussions.

Real offered to buy 60 per cent of Guo'an's share, but Beijing insists on holding bigger share.

(China Daily 07/25/2005 page6)


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