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In signing David Beckham, Paris Saint-Germain will be aware that they have signed not just a player but someone who has carefully nurtured his public image ever since his days as a fresh-faced youngster at Manchester United.

Proud family man, fashion guru, friend of A-list celebrities and politicians -- even gay icon -- the 37-year-old midfielder is as much known for his activities off the pitch as his pinpoint passing, tireless running and deadly free-kicks on it.

Beckham has risen from a modest background in Leytonstone, east London, to become one of the most marketable figures in world sport, aided by a high-profile marriage to former Spice Girl, turned fashion designer, Victoria Adams.

As a talented younster, he declined to sign with his local side Tottenham Hotspur and instead joined Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, becoming the heart of a side that included Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville and Nicky Butt.

He scored on his debut at 17 and stamped his arrival in the English top-flight with an audacious goal from the halfway line in a match against Wimbledon on the opening day of the 1996-7 season.

In eight years at Old Trafford, he collected six Premier League crowns and the 1999 Champions League, making him one of the most recognisable -- and bankable -- sportsmen in Britain.

Yet his time at the top was not without controversy: he became a hate figure for some at the 1998 World Cup when he was sent off for a petulant kick at Diego Simeone during England's last-16 defeat against Argentina in France.

His reputation was only restored with a breath-taking last minute free-kick in England's final World Cup qualifying match against Greece in 2001 and subsequent penalty winner against Argentina at the 2002 finals.

A well-publicised bust-up with Ferguson over his commitment to the game had by that time led to a 35-million-euro move to Real Madrid, where his increasingly global reputation saw an explosion in replica jersey sales, notably in Asia.

He was even the inspiration for the hit British film "Bend It Like Beckham", about a Punjabi-origin schoolgirl in west London who dreams of playing football like her idol, against her conservative parents' wishes.

Beckham dropped a bombshell in 2007 when he announced a shock 25-million-euro move to LA Galaxy.

Liverpool have signed Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho on a "long-term" contract from Italian giants Inter Milan, the English Premier League club announced Wednesday.

The 20-year-old, whose arrival at Anfield was confirmed just a day before the transfer window closes, followed former Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge in joining Liverpool this month.

"I'm feeling very happy, it's a very important step in my career and I'm expecting to come here and play good football to give my contribution on the pitch," Coutinho told Liverpool's website on Wednesday.

"Liverpool is a great club with great players. We've always heard about Liverpool's history in Brazil. They are the club that have been interested in me and that have showed this interest so I know they believe in me and my football," he added.

Coutinho, capped once by Brazil, started his career at Vasco da Gama before moving to Inter Milan in 2010 and has also spent time on loan with Spanish side Espanyol.

"We're always delighted when we get the players we go after," said Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre.

"It has been a successful transfer window for us, coming off the back of acquiring Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea and now Philippe from Inter Milan.

"I think that bodes well for us for the rest of the season and the future."

Defending champion Novak Djokovic produced one of the best performances of his career Thursday as he destroyed fourth seed David Ferrer in straight sets to reach the Australian Open final.

The Serbian world number one was simply on a different level to the Spaniard, reeling off a staggering 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 victory in just 1hr 29min in front of a stunned Rod Laver Arena crowd.

Djokovic will now be considered the raging favourite to win his fourth Australian title in Sunday's decider against either Roger Federer or Andy Murray, who play their semi-final on Friday.

Djokovic was in irresistible form, breaking the hapless Ferrer's serve seven times and hitting 30 winners with just 16 unforced errors in an awesome display.

"I played incredible tennis and I felt very comfortable and very confident from the start," Djokovic said. "I wanted to be aggressive on the court but this is definitely one of the best performances I've ever had in my career."

The manner of Djokovic's mauling of Ferrer, set to become the new world number four after Rafael Nadal's injury absence, underlined the gulf between the 'Big Four' -- Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal -- and the rest.

"David is experiencing the best time in his career in the last few years, he won 11 titles last year, but tonight I just played incredible," Djokovic said.

"I don't expect myself to play always this well, but I was free in my mind tonight and hopefully I can maintain that to the final."

It is Djokovic's fourth Australian Open final in six years and he is looking to become the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles.

By reaching the semi-finals Djokovic is already guaranteed to hold on to the number one ranking when the new listing is released on Monday.

 

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has attempted to clear the air with supporters of Newcastle United after describing their side as "a wee (small) club in the north-east".

Ferguson made the remark during a spat with Newcastle coach Alan Pardew, who had suggested the United manager was fortunate to avoid punishment for arguing with match officials during a match between the teams at Old Trafford.

However, Ferguson has now attempted to clarify his comments, saying that Newcastle's fans are "up there with the best supporters in the game".

"It was never my intention to belittle Newcastle fans," he told British weekly newspaper the Mail on Sunday.

"I want to clear up any misunderstanding that may have arisen over what I said. I have nothing but the highest regard for Newcastle fans and I always have had. They are up there with the best supporters in the game.

"Their passion, commitment and fervour have never wavered, even though they have had little to celebrate.

"They have turned up in numbers to get behind their team wherever and whenever the games have been played.

"When I take a team to St James' Park, I have stressed to the players that not only have they got to beat the opposition on the field, just as important is coping with the atmosphere created by the fans.

"Sadly, results have not matched their loyalty. If Newcastle's achievements had matched the support of the people who pay to watch them play, the club would be among the game's giants.

"It's tragic that they haven't been able to win a league title for over eighty years."

Fulham turned over a new leaf in the first Premier League game of 2013 by winning 2-1 at West Bromwich Albion on New Year's Day to record only their second win in 13 matches.

Dimitar Berbatov claimed the first goal of the calendar year to put Fulham in front, with Alex Kacaniklic netting a 58th-minute winner after Romelu Lukaku had equalised for West Brom with his seventh goal of the campaign.

It was only Fulham's second away win of the season and lifted Martin Jol's side two places to 12th, while Steve Clarke's West Brom remain seventh.

The final weekend of Premier League football in 2012 had dissolved in a blitz of 41 goals, but the first half at the Hawthorns showcased a sleepier side to the English top flight.

West Brom centre-back Gabriel Tamas headed wide from a corner in the 29th minute, before Berbatov spurned the game's first real chance when he blazed over from 25 yards after Chris Brunt miscued a back-pass.

When the breakthrough arrived, following a rapid Fulham counter-attack in the 39th minute, its quality was completely at odds with what had come to pass before.

Defending a corner, Fulham saw the ball pop out to Giorgios Karagounis, who helped it on to Berbatov in the centre circle.

The Bulgarian sprayed a pass wide to Ashkan Degajah, and he took a touch before cutting the ball back for the inrushing Berbatov to tuck a first-time shot between the legs of goalkeeper Ben Foster.

In response, Youssouf Mulumbu headed wide from Liam Ridgewell's left-wing cross, but West Brom had to wait only four minutes to level in the second half.

Serena Williams stamped her authority on the Brisbane International on Tuesday when she crushed Frenchwoman Alize Cornet 6-2, 6-2.

On a day that saw second seed Maria Sharapova withdraw with an injured collarbone and fifth and sixth seeds Sara Errani and Petra Kvitova bundled out, Williams was all business as she disposed of Cornet in exactly one hour.

The 15-times Grand Slam winner broke Cornet in the first game of the match and was never troubled after that, as she broke the Frenchwoman once more in the first set and twice in the second for a comprehensive victory.

Williams had far too much firepower for Cornet, hitting 25 winners to four including six aces. One in the second set was clocked at 200 kmh (125 mph).

The third-seeded American stepped up a gear from her opening-round win over fellow countrywoman Varvara Lepchenko.

"She's (Cornet) a former top 15 player and we've had a tough three-set match before, so I knew I had to play really well," she said.

"I tried to be more aggressive and tried to be more consistent."

Sharapova was earlier forced to withdraw with a right collarbone injury.

The Russian world number two sent scans of her injury to her doctor in New York, who advised her not to do any overhead training for at least a week.

"So to be fair I haven't really given myself a chance to pretty much hit any serves or anything over my head, I've just been practising ground strokes. So I just kind of ran out of time here," she said.

It is the second year in a row that Sharapova has withdrawn from the tournament without playing a shot.

In 2012 she skipped Brisbane because of an ankle injury and went straight to Melbourne to prepare for the Australian Open, where she finished runner-up to Victoria Azarenka.

Sharapova said she would do the same this year, passing up the opportunity of playing in Sydney next week to make sure she is fit for Melbourne.

Former Wimbledon champion Kvitova, who won in Brisbane in 2011, went down 6-4, 7-5 to Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, while Italy's Errani lost in three sets to 2012 runner-up Daniela Hantuchova 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.

"It wasn't my best tennis today and I think that it's the beginning of the season, so I hoped that it could be better, for sure," Kvitova said.

European Union (EU) legal backing for the free broadcast in Britain of the football World Cup and European Championships has been hailed as good news for fans and for the profile of the game.

An Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice rejected appeals by Fifa and Uefa against a ruling that the matches should be open to bidding from pay TV companies.

The Advocate-General - whose formal "opinion" will now be considered by the full court before a final ruling - said national authorities had the right under EU law to ensure "broad public access" to competitions deemed as "events of major importance for their society".

Fifa and Uefa, which organise the World Cup and European Championship finals respectively, claim an EU directive on television broadcasting which allows member states to block restrictive broadcast rights to major national events breaches their commercial freedom to sell exclusive screening access.

Such events are compiled on a UK list, approved by the European Commission as compatible with EU rules, and which includes all matches of the World Cup finals or the EURO finals.

Conservative MEP for East Midlands Emma McClarkin said: "Of course these are events of national importance in Britain.

Australia returned to form with a 20-14 victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday which also saw them end their lengthy wait for a Test try.

The Wallabies were unrecognisable from the side thrashed 33-6 by France in Paris last week and were unfortunate to be 14-11 down at the break.

England held a slender interval advantage thanks to three Toby Flood penalties and a controversial try from Manu Tuilagi.

Tuilagi's score cancelled out a deserved try by Wallaby wing Nick Cummins -- his first in Tests and Australia's first in 212 minutes of international rugby.

Recalled full-back Berrick Barnes, who also kicked astutely out of hand, then nudged Australia six points in front early in the second half.

And the Wallabies, with their scrum vastly improved, held on for a win that eased the pressure on their under-fire Kiwi coach Robbie Deans.

Defeat left England searching for their first win against a southern hemisphere giant under coach Stuart Lancaster after two defeats and a draw on tour against South Africa earlier this year.

England recalled Chris Ashton after the wing missed last week's 54-12 win over Fiji through suspension.

By contrast, Australia made four changes to their Paris team, with Barnes, wing Digby Ioane, lock Sekope Kepu and tighthead prop Ben Alexander recalled.

Flood's early penalty gave England the lead but it was Australia who dominated territory with a surge by openside flanker Michael Hooper taking the Wallabies into the hosts' 22.

Hooper found Cummins but he was held up short of the line but, after the ball was once more re-cycled from a ruck, Barnes kicked a close-range drop-goal to level the scores.

Another Flood penalty took England in front but Australia again came close to a try in the 29th minute after the ball was thrown to Hooper at the back of the line-out on the edge of the 22.

Alexander, after a series of rucks, thought he'd scored but French referee Romain Poite went to the replay offical and Scotland's Jim Yuille ruled 'no-try', with the ball obscured beneath a pile of bodies.

Barnes and Flood's exchanged penalties left England 9-6 in front before the try Australia had been threatening arrived in the 35th minute.

 

Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro claimed a surprise 7-6 (7/3), 4-6, 6-3 victory over defending champion Roger Federer on Saturday to book his place in the semi-finals of the ATP Tour Finals.

Del Potro's victory ended Federer's 12-match winning run at the season-ending event and guaranteed he will qualify from Group B along with the Swiss star.

Federer, who has won the Tour Finals title for the last two years, already knew he was through after winning his first two group matches at London's O2 Arena.

The semi-final match-ups will not be decided until after the final group match between David Ferrer and Janko Tipsarevic later on Saturday.

Victory for Ferrer would mean it is Federer who plays Andy Murray with del Potro playing Novak Djokovic, while a Tipsarevic win would reverse the fixtures.

Federer had won 13 of his previous 16 meetings, but the Argentine has given him plenty of trouble at times.

As well as winning his only Grand Slam title with a win over Federer at the 2009 US Open, del Potro also handed the 31-year-old his only other indoor defeat in the last two years in the final of his hometown tournament in Basle last month.

That pattern continued as a tight first set saw sixth-seeded del Potro save three break points to keep Federer at bay.

Then in the tie-break, Federer suddenly lost his rhythm and del Potro took advantage to snatch the first set.

 

After a year of race rows plaguing English football, more Britons think racism is widespread in the national game and a majority feel it will be impossible to eradicate it completely, according to a poll.

In the wake of incidents involving Chelsea's John Terry, Liverpool's Luis Suarez and now alleged comments by referee Mark Clattenburg, the survey revealed four out of 10 (40%) respondents agreed that racism is widespread in English football, an increase on 31% in June 2012.

The majority of people (57%) said it would be impossible to eliminate racism from football but nearly two-thirds (62%) said harsher penalties for racist behaviour would reduce the number of racist incidents, according to the ComRes poll for the Sunday Mirror.

And after Chelsea accused Clattenburg of using "inappropriate language" towards John Obi Mikel during last weekend's crunch match against Manchester United, nearly two thirds (62%) said referees' conversations with players on the pitch should be recorded.

Among the respondents who identified themselves as having an interest in football, the figure jumped to 75%. More than half of those asked (55%) also thought police were right to launch an investigation into the allegations against Clattenburg, which the referee strenuously denies. But less than a quarter (23%) thought referees get the respect they deserve from players, the survey showed.

Less than a fifth of respondents (18%) thought the behaviour of professional footballers had improved over the last ten years and there was support for "sin bins", with 64% saying they would favour players to be forced to sit out a period of a match if they behaved in an unsportsmanlike manner. Nearly half (46%) of those with an interest in football said there had been an increase in the number of racist incidents in the last five years, the poll showed.

Over a quarter (28%) thought the Football Association (FA) is not taking the issue of racism seriously enough and over half (51%) thought the penalties for racist language in football were not severe enough. While 41% thought the FA was taking racism seriously enough, less than a third of respondents (29%) said they were satisfied with the way the FA governs professional football in England, while 33% were dissatisfied.