Sitting alongside the world’s highest-paid footballer as he steers his Porsche through the narrow side streets of Madrid pursued by hundreds of paparazzi would test the nerves of any passenger.
When you’ve been hired to look after David Beckham and he’s racing to his first day of training at one of the game’s biggest clubs you might want to pull over and take the wheel.
That was the scenario presented to retired Australian soccer star turned player agent Andy Bernal when Beckham moved to Real Madrid from Manchester United in 2003 in a $62.5million transfer deal.
Spanish-speaking Bernal, who was working for Beckham’s management company SFX, would become the England captain’s translator, minder and right-hand man while he played with the European soccer powerhouse.
Bernal has now written a book, Riding Shotgun – The Autobiography of the Original Wizard of Oz, and Daily Mail Australia has obtained an exclusive extract about his time with Beckham.
Socceroo Andy Bernal (left) became a player agent after retiring from football and worked as a minder for David Beckham (right) when he transferred from Manchester United to Real Madrid. Bernal drove with Beckham on his first hair-raising trip to training in the Spanish capital
Bernal woke Beckham in the hotel bed he shared with wife Victoria on the morning of his first training run with Real Madrid. ‘Wakey wakey,’ Bernal said, followed by ‘I need to borrow your husband for the morning,’ according to his new book. The Beckhams are pictured in May 2003
The Real Madrid team of ‘Galacticos’ David Beckham joined in 2003 included Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Robert Carlos, Raul and Luis Figo. All are pictured in Germany in 2004
Bernal played in Spain for Xerez, captained Reading in the UK and been capped 21 times for Australia during a 15-year professional career but Beckham was in a whole different league.
The man who would go on to earn half a billion dollars in a two-decade career in the UK, Europe and the US was then the world’s highest-paid and most recognisable footballer.
He had married the equally famous Victoria Adams – Posh Spice of the pop group the Spice Girls – four years earlier and the couple had two children.
Bernal entered Beckham’s world as he was joining a club which had a team of superstar ‘Galacticos’ including Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Roberto Carlos, Iker Casillas and Luis Figo.
The Australian writes of having to reassure Beckham he belonged in such company. ‘You’re the England captain,’ Bernal told Beckham. ‘You are a Galactico too.’
Bernal played in Spain for Xerez, captained Reading in the UK and been capped 21 times for Australia during a 15-year professional career but Beckham was in a whole different league. He is pictured playing for Reading against Manchester City
Beckham was constantly followed by photographers during his stint with Real Madrid. He is pictured under police escort and pursued by paparazzi after arriving in the Spanish capital in July 2003
The Canberra-born child of immigrant parents grew up with racist taunts and developed into a fine footballer despite a serious congenital medical condition.
He was the first Australian to play professional football in Spain, after captaining the Australian youth team and before becoming agent to stars including Tim Cahill.
Once his gig with Beckham was over Bernal became addicted to crack cocaine and spent time in a Sydney mental health unit. A decade later he learnt he had been a victim of the British media phone-hacking scandal.
Working so closely with Beckham had taken a toll on Bernal, who recounts those times and much more in his new book.
Bernal compares that first hair-raising ride through the back streets of Madrid hounded by photographers to playing a live-action version of the computer game Fortnite or being in a James Bond film.
It was a high-stakes mission planned like a military operation that like so many others could easily have ended with Bernal or Beckham being killed.
Bernal (left) compares his first hair-raising ride through the back streets of Madrid with Beckham (right) to playing a live-action version of the computer game Fornite or being in a James Bond movie
The following is an exclusive extract from Riding Shotgun – The Autobiography of the Original Wizard of Oz by Andy Bernal:
The first day of training at a new club is always a nerve-wracking experience even for the most expensive football transfer in the world at the time. The night before I had ordered coffee, toast and a fruit platter for breakfast in David’s room before heading to training.
I had already made the journey once that morning with two commandos on a test run and all was good to go. I walked into David’s room, and he and Victoria were still in bed. “Wakey wakey,” I said, followed by “I need to borrow your husband for the morning.”
As we finished breakfast, Victoria appeared and gave David a good luck kiss and we were off down the fire escape exit where his security chief Merrick was already waiting for us and in game mode. This was serious business now; like a ‘Seal Team 6’ mission he was mentally and physically locked in, which transferred to the rest of us.
Spanish-speaking Bernal, who worked for Beckham’s management company SFX, became the England captain’s translator, minder and right-hand man when he played with Real Madrid. Beckham is pictured with wife Victoria in Tokyo in June 2003 after announcing his move
Vehicle inspections had been done, ranging from the basic mechanical checks through to car bomb checks. Emergency escape routes noted, and Spanish tactical response group direct numbers loaded onto our phones.
David liked driving most of the time, so I rode shotgun giving instructions and directions much like a co-driver in a rally car. Behind us a security vehicle and later, when necessary, in front as well. The route was complicated as central Madrid is a myriad of narrow one-way streets. Add traffic congestion and paparazzi and it left no room for navigational or driver error.
Andy Bernal, pictured recently, had a 15-year playing career in Australia, the UK and Spain
It was like a military operation and it would continue every day with no let up. Everybody in our security detail knew their place and their role; the goal was always to arrive at our destination with the safety of the family the number one priority, while trying to be as invisible as possible.
Engine purring, we got the green light, and we were off, heading for Beckham’s first training session with Real Madrid.
The paparazzi had been lying in wait all night, like snipers at the ready only with cameras instead of guns. A picture of David could fetch from as little as 1,000 euros to 100,000 Euros depending on the importance of the occasion. A deadly car crash picture, well that was a ‘name your price’ shot, and from their radio chatter we listened into, you sometimes got the feeling it was something they almost lusted for.
The car park at the Santo Mauro was underneath the hotel. A steep incline and a sharp left turn onto a busy one-way narrow street in Madrid was the only entry and exit point. Up the ramp you went at speed, as the hotel security blocked oncoming traffic. Because we knew the hotel staff would block the road, we never looked right upon exiting the ramp, our focus was exiting with speed in order to get some yards on the chasing pack, something that would later come back to haunt us with a bang!
‘A picture of David could fetch from as little as 1,000 euros to 100,000 Euros depending on the importance of the occasion,’ writes Bernal. ‘A deadly car crash picture, well that was a “name your price” shot. Beckham is pictured returning to his Madrid hotel after a medical check
Like two nervous kids on their first day off to a new school, we sped up the ramp getting good exit speed, turning left sharply, the rear wheels of the Porsche drifting a little before straightening up, only to be welcomed to the Madrid jungle by hundreds of paparazzi. Like a James Bond movie, it was lights, cameras and plenty of action as we attempted to lose the unlosable. If you lost one paparazzi, more would appear, like playing Fortnite! You could see in their faces, in their eyes, that they enjoyed this theatre, a high stakes, adrenaline fuelled game of cat and mouse, and we were the mouse! Exciting stuff for sure, but I was also experiencing first-hand how close superstardom was to post mortem.
We arrived at the training ground gate, went through security and immediately David pulled over, opened his door and vomited. I am not sure why, maybe a product of first day nerves, the car chase or both. What I can tell you is once we parked and got out of the car, I felt like I had been on the most insane roller coaster ride at Disney World. Surely it would not be like this every day?
Beckham could not speak any Spanish, Portuguese or French when he arrived at Real Madrid which he worried would isolate him from his teammates. He is pictured playing for the club in September 2003
Becks was a genuine superstar, but he was about to meet his new teammates who were also world superstars, and he couldn’t speak any Spanish, Portuguese or French, which can be difficult, uncomfortable and even a little scary outside of football, let alone inside the Real Madrid dressing room. He had ‘Hola’ in his vocabulary but not much else, but I reassured him.
“You’re the England captain,” I said. “You are a Galactico too and belong in there with them.” It wasn’t much, but it helped and made him feel more at ease. “You need anything, and I’m just outside the dressing room,” I told him.
Riding Shotgun – The Autobiography of the Original Wizard of Oz by Andy Bernal is published by Fair Play Publishing
He smiled and through the door he went. He had nothing to worry about as I had caught up for dinner the evening before with Julen Lopetegui at the restaurant he co-owned with former Real President Lorenzo Sanz. Julen had already made sure that Real’s big guns – Raul, Iker Casillas, Zinedine Zidane, Figo and the boys from Brazil – would make David feel at home.
After training, I prepared the car for the return leg to the hotel and again, the paparazzi lay in wait, strategically placed around the Ciudad Deportiva, only now they had grown in number. I had a suspicion this fast and furious business was not going away anytime soon.
Before starting the car and exiting into the real world David mentioned that he had struck up an instant connection with Ronaldo, which he was happy about. He showed me a text he had sent his close friend and former Manchester United teammate Gary Neville, telling him about his five-a-side team that included himself, Ronaldo, Zidane, Raul, and Roberto Carlos. Minutes later Neville replied with words to the effect of “raining and miserable in Manchester.”
We had a little chuckle, as the sun shone brightly through a blue sky on a beautiful summer day in the Spanish capital. As far as football went, it was a good first day and he was chuffed that the dressing room had warmed to him.
Riding Shotgun – the Autobiography of the Original Wizard of Oz by Andy Bernal is available from Fair Play Publishing, good bookstores and Amazon in paperback at a recommended retail price of $34.99 and as an e-book.