This Beckham business

The whole affair has taken on aspects of fiasco, with Beckham and his talentless singing wife, Relatively Posh Spice — you could cut that awful accent with a rusty penknife — trawling round the United States where no one really knows him let alone her.


David Beckham with his wife Victoria on stage at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards in the U.S. Beckham and his wife were in the U.S., seemingly to revive her singing career. — Pic. ROBERT MORA/GETTY IMAGES-

BY the time you read this David Beckham may have left Manchester United for Real Madrid, or Barcelona or Milan, or Inter. Or he may still be with Manchester United. The whole affair has taken on aspects of fiasco, with Beckham and his talentless singing wife, Relatively Posh Spice — you could cut that awful accent with a rusty penknife — trawling round the United States where no one really knows him let alone her. The object seemingly being to revive what might laughingly be known as her singing career, backed by a deeply doubtful rock singer who promotes a clutch of "rappers" whose lyrics make the blood run cold.

Barcelona? That is one of the strangest features of the whole business. That Manchester United should seemingly be ready to let Beckham go at all, even for upwards of �30 million, when he makes them such colossal sums of money from his "image rights", all over the world bar the USA, and especially in the Far East, seemed odd enough. But that the chief financial honcho at Old Trafford Peter Kenyon — oh, for those happy remote days when managers and Chairmen did the business — should deal as he has with a Barcelona hopeful who wasn't even President at the time seemed bizarre.

Actually Kenyon was giving audience to the representative of Joan Laporta, an aspirant for the Presidency of Barcelona, but running at that point well behind the favourite, hoping that the promise to bring Beckham to Barcelona would turn the trick for him on June 15. Irregular? Well, it seemed so to me at the time but it was taken that United were giving a signal that they were prepared despite all apparent probability and logic to let Beckham go.

Milan briefly seemed to be in the picture when Adriano Galliani, the henchman of owner Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy, declared that Beckham was their cherished target, whereupon Berlusconi slapped him down by saying that they had better things to do with their money. Or his own money.

Real Madrid astonished me when they joined the race. Why would they want David Beckham who had such a pallid, wretched game against them in the Bernabeu, in the European Cup first leg quarter-finals, even if he came on to score that fine free kick goal against them at Old Trafford? How in the name of wisdom could they think of letting United have the hugely more talented Portuguese star Luis Figo, in part exchange? The somewhat squalid explanation appeared to be that with a substantial out of Beckham's image rights, they could not only cover the transfer fee but even make a large profit for themselves. It took one back to the words of Keith Burkinshaw when he was sacked some years ago as manager of Tottenham Hostpur: "There used to be a football club here." Is this what has happened to the beautiful game? That the uppermost consideration, even with perhaps the most famous club in the world, has nothing to do with what happens on the field but everything to do with how much money can be made? In a sane football world Real wouldn't even be thinking about Beckham, they would be worrying about their rotten defence and lining up a decent replacement for their waning veteran centre back Fernando Hierro.

Bekham still had a couple of years on his contract at Old Trafford and has seemed perfectly content to stay. Yet greed seems a motivation. He earns many millions of pounds a year from United, from endorsements and the like. Surely he doesn't need any more. At heart he seems a simple, decent, not very bright young man — but footballers don't have to be rocket scientists. Look, if you can bear it, at the now pitiful case of Paul Gascoigne, a bird brain off the field but a remarkable football brain on it, far and away the best English player of his generation.

You do get the impression that Relatively Posh Spice is the driving force, that it was she who engineered that somewhat ill-starred trip to America, where in Los Angeles one famous film star Harrison Ford admitted he had never heard of Beckham though he would be interested to meet him, and a shop which the Beckhams arrogantly asked to close, so they go round it on their own refused to do so. Beckham himself must surely have been aware that he, anyway, was wasting his time in the States where though millions of boys and girls play soccer at amateur level, at top pro level it is a tiny, marginal affair, most of the clubs in the so-called Major Soccer league owned by a single billionaire.

The Beckham Phenomenon would invite examination by an expert sociologist, for it is something which seems to feed on itself, taking on a crazy momentum which has little or nothing to do with his talents as a footballer which are undoubted but plainly limited. As his far more gifted Manchester United predecessor George Best once said, Beckham lacks pace, doesn't go past his man and is mediocre in the air. What he does have of course is that marvellous right foot with which he — to some extent at least — compensates for his lack of a true winger's skill, pinging long distance balls of supreme accuracy into the danger area, striking free kicks and long range shots with remarkable accuracy and power. But money talks in soccer and, from the Beckham Affair, we can see that it is talking much too loudly.

No great wonder that Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair should try to climb on the bandwagon, the word being that Beckham has been awarded the Order of the British Empire. Why, some columnists have asked? When he got himself sent off for a piece of petulance against Argentina in Saint Etienne in the 1998 World Cup, when he jumped out of the way of a tackle (I couldn't really blame him; he did well to play at all, given the painful foot injury he was still carrying) in the 2002 game lost to Brazil, propitiating their first goal.

But Blair, having notably failed to suck up to rock stars, who snubbed him, has turned to footballers. He's the man who once claimed how much he enjoyed sitting behind the goal at Newcastle United watching Jackie Milburn play. But when Milburn retired, Blair was five years old. And he gave England's far from brilliant 2002 World Cup team a 10, Downing Street reception. Do you get the impression that for all his millions Beckham is being used? And was the flying boot kicked into his face however inadvertently, by Alex Ferguson the watershed in his United career?