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Blockbuster Deal Sends Beckham To Jerusalem United

JERUSALEM, Israel (SP) — Just when David Beckham thought that he'd be speaking Spanish this summer, the soccer superstar has learned that he'll be honing his Hebrew instead. Beckham has been traded by Spain's Real Madrid to Jerusalem United (J.U.) for 15 billion Shekels and a player to be named later.

Only a few weeks ago, Beckham had been sent from British soccer giant Manchester United to Real Madrid for a staggering transfer fee of $41.3 million (U.S.). However, the Spanish club soon realized that with numerous other high-priced acquisitions in recent years, including former FIFA players of the year Ronaldo and Zinadine Zidane, it would be unable to meet the team's weekly payroll after paying Man. U. for Beckham.

Therefore, Real Madrid placed him on the open market, and a fierce bidding war erupted between Israeli and Palestinian soccer teams. Both sides apparently thought that by acquiring the popular Beckham, public opinion regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict might turn in their favor. "While David regrets having been used as a political pawn, he is very excited about having the opportunity to play in a city with such a storied history as Jerusalem," said Reginald Adams of International Management Group, the sports agency that represents Beckham.

It's believed that the move is also favored by Beckham's wife Victoria, the former pop singer Posh Spice. "From the moment they started dating, David and Victoria have been one of the world's most high-profile couples, and they both adore the spotlight," said Q Magazine executive editor Nigel Williams. "Is there a country that has received more extensive international media coverage over the last few years than Israel?"

Although Jerusalem United is in the Israeli Premier League, it's still a far cry from the caliber of competition that exists in the elite leagues of England and Spain, as well as those in Italy, Germany, Finland, Iceland, and even the United States. In fact, FIFA ranks the Israeli Premier League 246th in the world, sandwiched between professional leagues located in Qatar and the Federated States of Micronesia. However, Beckham will be playing with some of Israel's very best footballers, including deft defender Sheckie Greenberg and speedy striker Schlomo Rabinovitch.

Beckham has already been warmly welcomed by the Israeli media. The front page of yesterday's Jerusalem Post contained the headline 'Shalom Aleichem David Beckham'. Israeli soccer fans are also very enthusiastic about the Beckham acquisition, having given him the nickname 'the gentle gentile'. Moreover, within an hour of announcing the acquisition, J.U. had sold all remaining season tickets for its home games in Ben Yehuda Stadium.

Beckham himself has also taken steps to ensure that he fits in with his new team. Concerned that his surname did not sound particularly kosher, Beckham announced that he will be adopting the Hebraic pronunciation 'Begin', which was also used by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Beckham.

However, not all soccer aficionados are convinced that Beckham will be able to lead Jerusalem to the promised land by winning a Premier League championship. "Beckham is certainly a very skilled offensive player, but what you really need to survive in this league is good defense," said the Post's J.U. beat writer, Henie Manush.

Manush pointed out that J.U. begins its pre-season schedule with a pair of 'friendlies' against its arch-rival, the Ramallah Marauders. "Ramallah's method of attack is both explosive and unpredictable," said Manush. "If your team doesn't know how to play a sound defensive style, it can very quickly turn into a blowout."

As is the case with all players in Israel's Premier League, Beckham will be expected to complete two years of military service with the Israeli army. However, Beckham downplays the magnitude of such a commitment. "It's really no big deal, since most of my time with the military can be served during the off-season, when things are much less hectic," he said. "I may have to cancel a few promotional appearances, but I've always fancied learning how to drive a tank!"

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