source: Cedelf P. Tupas | Philippine Daily Inquirer
In a country where football mania had shot to unprecedented heights over the last 12 months, it was a certified red carpet day.
Five months after a slew of NBA stars came over to strut their stuff in Manila, the Philippines welcomed another global sporting icon, football star David Beckham, who flew in Thursday together with his current soccer club, the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The 36-year-old Beckham and his American squad arrived from Jakarta at around 1:30 p.m. amid tight security, kicking off a three-day tour that will be capped by a goodwill game versus the Philippine team on Saturday at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
“It’s something special to be here,” Beckham said at a jampacked press conference at the Makati Shangri-La hotel last night.
“Football changes lives and we are proud to be part of this tour,” said the former captain of the England football team. Now also an international fashion icon married to a former Spice Girl, Beckham was once considered the highest paid footballer in the world based on his playing salary and advertising deals.
The December 3 match at Rizal Memorial Stadium, dubbed as the Dream Cup, marks the first time a high-profile football club will play an exhibition game in the country since the 1970s, when the Brazilian club Cruziero visited the Philippines.
Local football officials believe the Beckham tour augurs well for the sport that has enjoyed unprecedented popularity among Filipinos since the Philippine Azkals made a historic run in the Asean Championships last year.
“This is an experience they (the Azkals) can constantly draw inspiration from, a memory they can return to again and again as we gear up for football’s renaissance in the country,” said Dan Palami, the Azkals manager.
“(Beckham’s) visit validates our interest in the sport and gives us a chance to share our love of the game with others. This international recognition of football’s resurgence in our country connects us further with the wider global community of football fans and enthusiasts,” Palami added.
Despite Beckham’s commercial draw and the Galaxy being crowned Major League Soccer champions last week, promoters said tickets for the match ranging from P2,000 to P15,500 each have yet to be sold out.
But promoter Jinx Macabenta of California-based Fuelcels Inc. said ticket sales had picked up over the past few days after corporate sponsors partnered with promoters to reduce prices.
“It’s been an uphill climb because of the steep prices,” Macabenta conceded. “But there have been big spikes and we’re expecting over 80 percent of Rizal Memorial (to be filled with paying fans) by Saturday.”