Beckham keen to gain northern exposure - Edmonton Journal

Jim Holt
Canwest News Service

Saturday, April 26, 2008

CARSON, Calif. - He's never been to Edmonton but hears it's cold and has never met Wayne Gretzky but wants to.

Soccer superstar David Beckham, arguably the most famous athlete on the planet, told a cluster of Canadian reporters Friday he's sincerely looking forward to playing a "friendly" game in Edmonton on May 13 against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Although he called The Great One Greg instead of Wayne, he also referred to him as a legend. Once the gaffe was made, the former midfielder for Manchester United quickly corrected himself and with obvious humility and in a quiet voice said he would love to one day meet the hockey superstar.

"I'm interested in any person that has made a difference like he did in a sport," Beckham told a reporter who compared him to Gretzky, moving to Los Angeles and changing the character of his sport.

"Without a doubt he is one of the legends -- he is the legend," said Beckham.

"I haven't met him yet, but I would love to meet him one day. I think that he's one of the best sportsman of anyone's time.

"And, when you do something like that to a sport which he did, that's what you need -- that's what anybody needs in their lives -- someone to look up to, a role model."

Beckham -- star of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team -- joined his coach Ruud Gullit and Alexi Lalas, president and general manager of the team, as well as Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi in the press room at the Home Depot Center where the Galaxy plays.

It was clear after only a couple of seconds that the role model for all of the Edmonton reporters there was David Beckham.

About Edmonton itself, Beckham said he hadn't heard much.

"I've heard a few people tell me it's going to ... maybe ... be cold. It's nothing that I'm not used to. In England, we're used to that kind of weather," he said.

"I always totally enjoy going to different places to play and playing different teams no matter where we are. We enjoy it."

The press event for the Edmonton media was held to drum up interest in the upcoming exhibition match in Edmonton between the Galaxy and Whitecaps.

Organizers were hoping to sell out Commonwealth, which has a capacity of 61,000, but so far only about

27,000 tickets have been sold, according to Nathan Vanstone, the Whitecaps manager of broadcast and communications.

The two teams met in a scoreless game last November at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, where 48,000 fans attended.

Beckham and the Galaxy also played before 85,000 fans in a friendly in Sydney, Australia, late last fall.

Beckham, of course, is the big draw for the Edmonton game, and is contractually obligated to play at least 45 minutes in the game. If he happens to be injured before May 13 and can't play, the game would be rescheduled, according to the Whitecaps' Lenarduzzi.

Beckham was asked Friday about his competitiveness when it came to playing against non-European competitors.

He said he becomes competitive regardless of his opponent.

"Whatever players a team uses, there are great players on that team. And, that's the way that I personally look at it. I've played for Manchester United, I've played with some of the best goal scorers and, at Real Madrid, with the likes of Ronaldo ... and I'm playing with players here who have got a lot of ability."

Beckham, who came up through England's youth league and who now owns and operates a series of soccer academies for children around the world -- London, Los Angeles and one slated for Brazil -- was asked if he would consider opening one in Canada.

"Without a doubt, there's obviously many places I'd like to open academies and if there's a chance to open one in Canada, then I'm sure someone will tell me about it," he said.

© The Edmonton Journal 2008