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Mend it like Beckham as soccer body hopes for improved image

Updated: 2013-03-21 07:22
By Sun Xiaochen ( China Daily)

Mend it like Beckham as soccer body hopes for improved image

David Beckham poses with students of a Beijing primary school on Wednesday. The former England captain arrived in China on Tuesday as a special ambassador for Chinese soccer. [Photo by Cui Meng / China Daily]

With a nimbleness reminiscent of his prime, David Beckham dodged suggestions that his visit to China was motivated by money.

As the most marketable face in world soccer, the former Manchester United star and special ambassador for Chinese soccer said that the only reason he is here is to encourage more Chinese children to play the sport.

Beckham's new role as the Chinese Super League and youth program ambassador sparked suggestions in the global media that the superstar just wanted to win over a bigger commercial market.

However, the 37-year-old stressed that his five-day tour is purely about inspiring more Chinese youngsters to get onto a soccer pitch.

"It's important for me to be able to educate the children to be able to go into one of the greatest sports in the world. That's my role," Beckham said at a packed news conference at Beijing Shi-jia Primary School on Wednesday.

Beckham swerved around a question concerning any endorsement fees.

"I am here as an ambassador, it's as simple as that," Beckham said. Financial concerns had no part in his appearance, he said

According to unconfirmed media reports, quoting Chinese soccer officials, Beckham will receive a salary of $2.6 million for his new role.

Age may have slowed down his playing speed but it has not dented his enthusiasm. He visited two schools immediately upon his arrival in Beijing.

Hundreds of chanting students, holding "Welcome to Beijing" banners greeted him at Shi-jia school.

Beckham struck up an immediate rapport with 18 student representatives, and learned to pronounce his nickname Xiao Bei, (Little Beck), in Mandarin. He revealed that noodles are his favorite Chinese food.

As an ambassador for Chinese soccer, Beckham has undertaken a demanding role.

In February the Chinese Football Association banned 33 players and match officials for life for match-fixing.

In 2012, two former heads of the soccer league were also jailed. China has failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

But Beckham says he is ready for the challenge.

"I don't think it will damage my reputation because I am not a politician," the current Paris Saint-Germain player said.

"I was not involved in scandals or corruption in the past, and I am here for the future to develop the grassroots game."

Action always speaks louder than words and Beckham was quick to join an impromptu kick-around during his second visit, to Beijing No 2 Middle School.

Hu Chushi, a middle school student, hopes the star's arrival will persuade the school to let them play more soccer.

"I never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that I would play soccer with Beckham," Hu said.

"I think he will draw more interest to Chinese soccer and bring more youngsters into the game."

One of Beckham's key tasks will be to boost Chinese soccer's global image.

"Beckham is the obvious candidate to put Chinese football on the world stage," said Wei Jixiang, an official of the Chinese Football Association.

Beckham, tantalizingly, left open the possibility of actually playing in China. "If I can maintain my fitness, who knows? We will see," he said.

Beckham will also visit Chinese Super League club Qingdao Jonoon on Friday before flying to Wuhan on Saturday.


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