Shine taken off Spanish fiesta

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 12:00am

Real Madrid may have turned on the style in their Hong Kong match, but the club boss scored an own goal with his off-the-field antics

Real Madrid left Hong Kong yesterday basking in the afterglow of an unforgettable exhibition match but leaving behind a sour aftertaste - with the club president's apology for their missed training session exposed as anything but sincere.

An itinerary posted on Real Madrid's official website until shortly before Friday's game kicked off undermined Florentino Perez's 'sincere apology' that Wednesday's cancelled training was the result of 'a misunderstanding and a problem with communication' - inferring the fault lay with local organisers.

In Real's schedule, 'there was no outdoor or public training', the club president said. But on the club's website, a page detailing their programme clearly stated, for Wednesday: '17.00h.: Departure from the hotel to the stadium.'

The Hong Kong Football Association had no reaction to this discrepancy other than a terse statement that 'the schedule of activities at the stadium was confirmed with Real Madrid's tour organisers, Asia Sports Development, on Tuesday, August 5'.

The cancelled session left more than 1,000 people - guests of the sponsors for Real's visit - waiting for more than 90 minutes before, at a hastily arranged on-pitch press conference, three players, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos and Michel Salgado, answered a handful of staged questions from public relations people. Many of the fans who had waited patiently in the hope of seeing English superstar David Beckham streamed for the exits when they realised these would be the only players appearing.

The team cited fatigue as a reason for scrapping the session, but several of the players were later seen partying late into the night at exclusive clubs in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui.

For all the magnificence of their star-studded lineup, Real's management of their Hong Kong visit hardly cemented their reputation as a world-class club. As well as Wednesday's cancelled session, the following day they kept nearly 30,000 fans waiting for more than an hour in baking sunshine before nonchalantly strolling out to start a training session. That afternoon, a press conference began more than 45 minutes late.

It seemed Friday's match against a Hong Kong Select side, which Real won 4-2 - and a meeting with movie star Jackie Chan - were the only things they turned up on time for.

Nevertheless, more than 100 fans were at the airport yesterday to see off Real's superstars as the Spanish champions left for Thailand and the final stop on their Asian tour.

As the team, led by Zinedine Zidane, arrived for their flight, people in the crowd - some of whom had been waiting more than two hours - shouted the names of their idols, took pictures and waved.

Their excitement rose further when Beckham waved to the fans before he and his teammates entered the restricted area of the airport. An hour earlier, a group of young fans had been at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Wan Chai, where the team had stayed, to wave goodbye as the players boarded a coach for the airport.