x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Beckham's star staying power

Celebrity footballer finds his admirers awestruck as his Dubai supporters await autographs at Al Nasr stadium.

David Beckham of A.C. Milan Football team, waves to fans as he leaves practice at Al Nasr football club in Dubai.
David Beckham of A.C. Milan Football team, waves to fans as he leaves practice at Al Nasr football club in Dubai.

DUBAI // As the sun faded over Al Nasr football stadium yesterday evening, football supporters clutching paper and pens waited to welcome the Italian football team AC Milan, and one rather high-profile English player. At just before 5pm the team's white coach pulled into the grounds, sending fans into a chorus of whoops and screams as they jostled to catch a glimpse of David Beckham. It was the moment many had been waiting hours for. Beckham waved from the coach window to children perched on their parents' shoulders and on the top of railings.

When asked how he was enjoying his time in Dubai, the former England captain said: "I love it, it's a very beautiful place." Banners reading "AC Milan, we love you" lay draped across the metal barriers separating the fans from the players. Loud cheers erupted every time a player, including Ronaldhino and Kaka, the Brazilian internationals, left the coach to prepare for training. Chrissie Ammounah, with her three children and their friends, said the crowds were much bigger than those who greeted Milan when they were in Dubai in January. Beckham had clearly increased interest in the event, she said.

Her daughter Liz said she wasn't a football fan, but catching a glimpse of the England international "sold it to me". Dean Weston, 22, said: "Words can't describe how I feel. I'm a massive Beckham fan,' he said. "If being in the AC Milan team gets him into the England squad then great. "He just needs to keep his fitness up. I'm really looking forward to seeing him in action. I'm hoping to get an autograph."

Andrew Henderson was at the training session with his two sons Robbie, 15, and Alex, 12. He said: "It's a bit weird seeing [Beckham] here, someone so famous. It's strange that we get to see him so close. "We're looking forward to watching him kick about and watch how he makes the ball turn and curl. This is a big deal for us, especially with us being from London and him too. It's great." Fans were treated to more than an hour of training from their heroes, including a practice match.

Dressed in a white sleeveless team training shirt which revealed his many tattoos, Beckham laughed with Ronaldhino and fellow team mates as they warmed up. The Brazilian players also had a vocal fan club. Sidel, 25, from Brazil, said: "I would like to wish Ronaldhino a very happy New Year. "He is the reason I am here today. In my opinion he is the best player in the world." The squad is in Dubai for nine days as part of a team training camp, which will culminate in a friendly match against German side Hamburg SV at The Sevenson Jan 6.

Around 40 special protection officers are reportedly watching the players around the clock to ensure everything runs smoothly. Milan have made all of their training sessions open to the public. The next will take place on Friday from 5pm until 6.30pm. loatway@thenational.ae