Austria attracts football teams like never before
David Beckham, Roberto Carlos and other World Cup stars were on Thursday due to join their Real Madrid teammates at a pre-season training camp in southern Austria.
The arrival of the superstars is the latest footballing highlight for the alpine nation two years before it hosts the 'Euro 2008' tournament together with Switzerland.
'Euro 2008' will be the biggest sports events ever held in the country, which traditionally mainly prides itself on winter sport.
But clever marketing, a perfect training and accommodation infrastructure and the sheer natural beauty of the alpine region has prompted an unprecedented number of football clubs to set up their tune-up camps in the country.
"World Cup stars in your backyard," rejoiced the local Kurier daily, listing on one full page the "million-dollar legs from Beckham to (Arsenal star Thierry) Henry."
Real arrived last week, English giants Arsenal and Italy's Lazio are there, almost half of the German Bundesliga have also set up camp in the neighbouring country, and so have the likes of Persepolis Tehran, Red Star Belgrade and Maccabi Haifa.
In total, more than 50 clubs will train and play warm up games in Austria, that after the country already welcomed eight World Cup teams earlier this year ahead of the World Cup finals in Germany.
"They are making a huge effort because of Euro 2008," said Martin Bader, the general manager of German Bundesliga club Nuremberg.
Tune-up games against local outfits and other international teams have drawn large crowds and the presence of the big teams generates huge media attention as well.
Local businesses naturally profit from the visitors and there are also hopes that the presence of Beckham and company will have a positive effect on the local footballing youth sector.
"Of course we want to do something for our image," said Nickolaus Pichler from the International Football Camp Styria (IFCS).
"All the camps I've seen here offer good football pitches, good training conditions and good indoor facilities," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.