David Beckham. Lovely David Beckham.
The tide has finally turned against Beckham as he slips off the radar as the darling of English footballer. After yet another poor performance in England’s defeat to Portugal today, Beckham has surely made his last World Cup appearance – he will be 35 by the time the next one comes around. Even expecting him to play any considerable role for England in Euro 2008 is unlikely given how utterly ineffective he is as both a player and a captain. At 31, Beckham should be capable of making the sort of impact that the likes of Zinedine Zidane – utterly brilliant against Brazil tonight – and Luis Figo are.
But Beckham is just not in the same class. George Best once said about him: “He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn’t score many goals. Apart from that he’s all right.”
What Beckham could do very well (apart from whore himself around the media) was hit great free kicks and cross the ball as well as anyone in the world. But unfortunately as his influence has waned on the pitch these contributions became the sole reason to have him out there. As a captain he is uninspiring and the decision to make him so was more a public relations move than a tactical one.
England have paid the price for pandering to the whole David Beckham image and it is no conincidence that their best hour of football in the tournament was the hour that he was not on the pitch – he hobbled off injured after 51 minutes today.
A friend of mine went to school with Beckham in London and told me that after Goldenballs became a star in the mid 90s reporters contacted several of them to try and get some good stories on him. But he was a popular kid in school and his friends had nothing to say that would have shifted newspapers. He still commands fierce loyalty in Chingford and the surrounding area of east London. I was in a bar with my mate back in 1997 during a football tournament called Le Tournoi. Beckham was making his breakthrough at the time but I was not impressed at all by him and made it pretty clear that I considered him overrated. I was politely warned that it was not safe to have a go at him (even bearing in mind that he sodded off from his precious London to join Manchester United).
He’s had his share of scandal and has somehow managed to survive several allegations of affairs. His wife, Victoria, has believed him to be innocent of any wrongdoing finding solace in the 16m a year he earns.
But the media circus that surrounds him – the conception and birth of his kids, the tattoos, the new hairstyles, the fashion gaffes – was cleverly manufactured by his little PR rabble that has made him a familiar name around the world. Even in Canada.
Unfortunately I believe that it is has all been to the detriment of his football. A player with unlimited potential saw much of the development lost in a haze of celebrity – a situation that ultimately led to his long-time mentor, Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, selling him to Real Madrid.
What David Beckham did was choose money and celebrity over football. He may love football but he loves fame more. And that’s why, at 31, Beckham cuts a rather sad figure; a peripheral player who reached the top but for the wrong reasons.
It’s enough to make you sick.