England overcoming Beckham mania?

England Manager Fabio Capello (left) and David Beckham share a light moment before an EPL match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane.-AP England Manager Fabio Capello (left) and David Beckham share a light moment before an EPL match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane.

David Beckham seems almost a protected species, able to make huge sums of money out of commercial endorsements, not to mention the massive wages he has elicited, not least from LA Galaxy. In years to come, sociologists may find rich pickings in his career. Over to Brian Glanville.

Is the tide turning at last? Will we, at the very moment when he has been training with Tottenham Hotspur with a view to playing there on loan, when his BBC TV award for distinguished so called achievement is only a matter of weeks old, witness a turn of the tide? A return, as some of us might say, to a measure of reality? For Beckhamitis, as I named it, has been rife now for years, in one way and another, he has amassed no fewer than 115 England caps and become what is loosely termed something of an icon.

He belongs, of course, to the Los Angeles Galaxy, a member of the irredeemably marginal Major League Soccer in America. The safe fact being that, however, many millions of young Americans, large numbers of them girls and women, play soccer in the States, it will never be more than a marginal phenomenon. Even if it is no longer what its entrenched opponents called it a good many years ago, an un-American activity.

Last season, the Galaxy, who pays Beckham royally, allowed him to come back to Europe to play on loan for Milan in the Campionatio: where he was injured. This time they were far less ready to allow him the time which he and Spurs wanted: Yet why did they want him at all?

Of late, there have been several notable broadsides at the notion. One of them even came in the London evening paper from the former head of BBC Radio 4, now head of an Oxford College. Simply as a Spurs supporter, he said what many of us had long thought, that with his inability to run, to beat opponents down the lane, Beckham is an overrated winger. A leading Sunday sports column said much the same and the former Liverpool and Scotland centre half, Alan Hansen, now a television pundit, disparaged the Tottenham plan on the “box”.

Yet Beckhamitis being what it is, and I believe it to be a widespread delusion, as shrewd and seasoned a club manager as Tottenham's wily Harry Redknapp has been keen as mustard to enlist Beckham for those few weeks. When I asked him about it at a recent post match press conference, Harry replied that Spurs lacked cover in the outside right position and implied that Beckham, when he was used, could exercise a positive effect on the team.

Football being, as we know, full of ironies, barely had Beckham arrived in his native London than Spurs played Charlton Athletic at White Hart Lane in a Cup tie, giving their 19-year-old right winger Avro Townsend a run out, having previously lent him to Ipswich Town. Townsend did very well especially in the second half, showing pace, good control and precocious confidence. After the game, an easy ultimate 3-0 win for Spurs, Harry Redknapp in a television interview praised Townsend then, smiling said he'd probably be going out again on loan.

But why? You felt moved to ask. If, as Harry had said to me, Spurs are short of cover on the right flank for the gifted quick and elusive Aaron Lennon, why enlist Beckham, briefly if at all, at that, and offload Townsend? Not to mention sending David Bentley out on loan to Birmingham City after his two frustrating years at White Hart Lane. He's started well. You might say that Bentley has been something of his own worst enemy, somewhat embarrassingly inclined to blow his own trumpet. As he did at the expense of David Beckham, when first called to the colours by England. But his form waned and Beckham, so mysteriously favoured by Fabio Capello, came back into the picture and the team, if only in short bursts as substitute. Each of which spells under present dispositions carries a full cap, enabling Beckham with his series of fits and starts to amass that vast number of 115 caps, leaving the illustrious Bobby Moore, captain of the England team which won the 1966 World Cup at Wembley, trailing numerically at least, in his wake. You do really feel that Fabio Capello, who signed, dropped then reinstated Beckham at Real Madrid, is the chief of all Beckhamitis victims.

Bentley, who looked so promising in his early games for Arsenal did himself no favours when two summers ago he withdrew from the England under-21 squad due to figure in the European championship finals, insisting that he was too tired. Perhaps he was. But certainly he didn't deserve the moronic booing to which he was subjected, when he subsequently turned out for the full England team, at Wembley.

Any more than Beckham deserved the truly vicious abuse, which included his wife and family, when leaving the field after England had been knocked out of the European Championships of 2000 by Rumania. At this point, his later huge popularity must have seemed chimerical. He was, of course, still being blamed for that moment of petulance in the 1998 World Cup in France, when he kicked out at an Argentine opponent while on the ground and was sent off, thus condemning England to endure most of the 120-minute game, lost only on spot-kicks, after extra-time, with only ten men.

Though Beckham, with his undeniably remarkable dead-ball kicks, has scored and made important goals for England, it cannot be denied that his three World Cup tournaments have hardly been a great success. In Japan, in 2002, he jumped out of the way of the advancing Ronaldinho, who proceeded to equalise Michael Owen's opening goal. In Germany, in 2006, he again had his dead ball moments, but should never have been allowed to keep Aaron Lennon, in flying form then — and goodness knows how Lennon reacted, when Beckham suddenly turned up at Spurs — largely out of the side.

Unlike Beckham, Lennon, especially in that World Cup, was eminently capable of beating his full back getting to the line and pulling back the deadliest of passes. But Beckham seems almost a protected species, able to make huge sums of money out of commercial endorsements, not to mention the massive wages he has elicited, not least from the LA Galaxy club, which has hardly set the so called Major League Soccer (Soccer, alas, will never be major league in the USA) on fire.

In years to come, sociologists may find rich pickings in his career.