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Fans, media crush welcome Beckham to Galaxy

  • Story Highlights
  • David Beckham introduced Friday as member of the L.A. Galaxy
  • More than 250,000 fans have already bought Galaxy jersey
  • Teen soccer player "super-excited" over Beckham
  • Celeb photo agency dedicating team to following Beckhams nearly all the time
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From Rachel Brown
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- International soccer star David Beckham said Friday that he was taking on the biggest challenge of his career, after being introduced as the newest member of the Los Angeles Galaxy.

About 5,000 fans, hordes of photographers and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa attended the news conference.

The stylish star was showered with confetti as he held his No. 23 jersey up to his gray suit. His wife Victoria, better known as as Posh Spice of the Spice Girls, stayed on the sidelines during the event but still attracted a lot of attention in her pink dress and big black sunglasses.

Beckham called coming to America "one of the biggest challenges I've ever taken on in my career." That career includes 11 years on England's national team and stints on storied football clubs Manchester United and Real Madrid.

"Potentially, in the States, soccer could be as big as it is everywhere else around the world. And I'm proud to be a part of that," Beckham said. "And I'm going to be a part of that for the next five years and maybe for a few more years later." Video Watch as Beckham becomes an American soccer player »

Galaxy head coach Frank Yallop called Beckham "a winner on and off the field."

"The team cannot wait to get him out on the field with his boots on, his kit on, the Galaxy jersey on, start to win some games and enjoy our time here," Yallop said.

The media blitz started late Thursday, when the paparazzi turned out at Los Angeles International Airport for the Beckham family's arrival.

His wife kicks off her publicity tour for a one-off reality show that's to air on NBC early next week.

The pair are tabloid favorites in Britain, where football stars' wives and girlfriends rival Paris Hilton for attention.

For example, the fiancee of Chelsea star Frank Lampard was seen without her engagement ring for a fourth day, and that was big news Friday on London tabloid The Sun's Web site.

Beckham may be best known in the United States for the movie "Bend It Like Beckham," about a teenage girl who idolized the star.

The former captain of the English National team also drew headlines with the contract that brought him to the United States from Spain's Real Madrid.

The five-year deal reportedly could be worth up to $250 million, mostly from a cut of ticket sales, uniform sales and sponsorship deals.

The Galaxy has already sold more than 250,000 Beckham jerseys, which sell for $79.99 on the team's Web site.

L.A. Galaxy officials have high hopes that their investment in Beckham will pay off.

"It's so great, we're so excited, from the coaching staff to the players," Blane Shepard, the Galaxy's director of special operations, told CNN. "I'm not going to say he's the savior, but gosh, everyone in the United States is talking about David Beckham and we just can't wait for him to start." Senior Writer Chris Isidore says Beckham's already better known than some established sports stars.

Talent marketing agency Davie Brown Entertainment found that more than 51 percent of Americans surveyed knew who Beckham is, compared with the 25 percent who had heard of NBA star Tim Duncan, Isidore said.

Duncan, a perennial All-Star, just led the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA championship, winning the fourth title of his career.

Beckham is scheduled to make his U.S. debut July 21.

"It's a little bit unfair because Tim Duncan is one of the most anonymous superstars you're ever going to see," Isidore said. "But 50 percent recognition factor is actually pretty high."

Beckham isn't the first international star to try to put soccer on the map in the United States.

The North American Soccer League brought in Brazilian soccer legend Pelé and a host of other stars in the mid-1970s, but the league ultimately failed.

German star Franz Beckenbauer, who also played in the league, said things have changed since then.

Beckenbauer said that when he played, announcers had to explain the rules over the public address system.

Now, more than 20 million Americans play the game.

"I think the whole country's waiting -- because now, soccer in the United States is different ..... The soccer family is quite big in the United States," Beckenbauer said.

More than 200,000 children play soccer in Southern California, and they're excited about Beckham.

Los Angeles teen AhKeyah Allahjah is ecstatic about the mere thought Beckham will soon be playing for the Galaxy, a Major League Soccer team trying to reach the heights of such L.A. icons as the Lakers and Dodgers.

"I'm super-excited, and I can't wait," she said, the enthusiasm radiating from her voice.

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Rabid Galaxy fan Binh Robles, 13, is also looking forward to Beckham's debut. "He's a really good playmaker. He'll open up the team and get the ball moving. We need that."

He understands why some of his friends aren't into professional soccer like he is. "They think it's too slow of a game, and there's not enough fast-paced action like basketball or football."

The Beckhams are already good friends with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. They recently purchased a $22 million mansion in their Beverly Hills neighborhood.

The Cruises are frequently photographed at his children's sports games or out to dinner, and the Beckhams are expected to also live very much in the public eye.

Bryan Alexander of People magazine predicts: "They will spend a lot of time with the Cruises at first and radiate off each other's star power."

The industry that feeds off that star power is ramping up in preparation. L.A. celeb photo agency Splash News says it is dedicating a team to following the Beckhams nearly around the clock.

"This is not about two people having a private life in Los Angeles. This is a business move for them," says Splash CEO Gary Morgan.

Emily Miller, the chief U.S. correspondent of London tabloid The Sun, adds, "They are our showbiz royalty."

Miller says the tabloid is sending out sports and entertainment reporters to cover what it considers a very big story.


But Splash's Morgan cautions that Americans are attracted to scandal, and unless the Beckhams "do something stupid," then people will quickly lose interest in the heavily stage-managed and marketed couple.

In other words, Paris Hilton, don't quit your day job. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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