Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Golden B*llocks

As the season pulls into the the final straight with league tables taking shape, cup competitions in their closing stages, title races getting more exciting, relegation battles more nail-biting, managers being sacked, teams in administration and Liverpool actually winning, the supposed biggest football story, not for the first time, centres around David Beckham.

It looks like Becks' dream of representing England in South Africa this summer have been dashed as the former captain twanged his Achilles tendon while turning out for Milan Old Boys at the weekend. Since the injury, news and sports news channels alike have provided wall-to-wall coverage of everything from the man in question limping away from Milan to the surgery itself in Finland to the diagnosis of injury. He'll be out for six months apparently.

Notice how I managed to sum up all the relevant information in just 76 words and didn't need to send a correspondent to stand outside the Finnish hospital in question to fail to add anything new or interesting to this story? Sky Sports News and poor cold Gary Cotterill, take note.

On a personal note, I've never been a big fan of David Beckham. Ever since he burst onto the scene for The Salford Bay Rowdies back in the mid-nineties there was always something that rubbed me up the wrong way about him. It wasn't the pretty boy looks, the Colgate smile or perfectly styled hair. Fair play to the guy for looking good; I can relate... Ok, maybe I can't but I feel I need to get it out of the way that my anti-Becks stance is not based on his appearance.

My dislike for young David was more than that I had for other Rowdies player. Perhaps it was because his ascension coincided with the pinnacle of my dislike for all things Manchester red following their second double in just three seasons back in 1996.

When he scored THAT goal against The Team Formerly Known As Wimbledon FC, I sneered in my early adolescence, refusing to be impressed and maintained that the goal itself was good but 'not that good' (Halfway line goals had been scored for years and continue to do so without such over the top fanfare) and ultimately meaningless considering the Rowdies had long since wrapped up said match. Furthermore, Neil Sullivan was in goal. I would have had more faith in my laundry basket to save the shot. The constant daily replays went on for what seemed like an eternity (Bare in mind, this was before even the days of Sky Sports News and YouTube!) and only exacerbated my contempt but at least I knew that this latest prissy-haired United player would only be confined to the back pages, right? RIGHT?


All of a sudden, David Beckham was all over the gossip columns being linked with celebrity women all over the place. From actresses to, of course, pop stars. Eventually he hooked up with one fifth of one the greatest musical abominations of all time and the rest as they say, was history. 'Posh and Becks' had entered the English lexicon never to depart (what is it that made Victoria Adams so posh in the first place by the way? Have you heard her speak??).

Overnight Celebrity

I'm pretty sure that for the genuine sports/football fan, Monsieur Beckham's private life meant absolute bugger all. Yes, he was a pin-up for teenage girls up and down the land but he wasn't the first and certainly not the last footballer to be so. So why the continued fascination? At the end of the day he was just another footballer with a famous wife yet the coverage they received would make you think they were royalty! This more than excessive bombardment simply fuelled my dislike for the boy.

Eventually, I thought, this kind of thing would die down surely. The next flash in the pan football golden boy will soon be upon us and before we know it we'll all be sitting around saying 'David who'?

Zero to Hero

But then France '98 rolled around and the moment that transformed his life/career into the outrageous circus that we have to unfortunately put up with today. Had Beckham not been sent off against Argentina, he would not have been roundly vilified by the entire country and we would have had none of the almost sacrilegious talk of his so-called 'resurrection'.

As an aside, despite of my personal bias against him, I always maintain that the decision to send Beckham off was a harsh one. The tabloid witch-hunt which followed was out of order considering it was a very, very weak decision by the referee. Always need a scapegoat in this country though, don't we?

What followed were tales of how he bravely defied the odds and spat in the face of adversity. Clawing his way up from rock bottom to become England Captain and stand atop the mountain.

Such sycophancy from the same people who decided he was the spawn of Satan after the controversy of St. Etienne .

Then came the glitz, the glamour, the marriage and the blatant attention-grabbing names of the children. The boy from Leytonstone had been replaced by an brand. 'Brand Beckham' if you wish. Commercial contracts came in by the truckload.

Once upon a time, kids would watch a football match and try and imitate the skills of their heroes in school the next day. But such was the proverbial pulling power of our Dave that it was his ever-changing hairstyles that would be replicated in playgrounds up and down the country rather than his footballing ability.

And it wasn't just children. Hell, even I bought a pair of white Adidas Predators following a Beckham endorsement. The term 'metrosexual' became the norm as men realised there was nothing wrong with them if they chose to look 'pretty'.

Beckham pretty much paved the way for the football celebrity/wag culture we have to suffer today. The recent John Terry and Ashley Cole scandals are merely a by-product of Beckham's manipulation of the media for his own exposure and personal gain.

But alas, it seems I have become guilty of the very thing I criticise. I've been babbling on for ages and have barely mentioned what he is actually paid to do for a living.

All this fuss made over the man might have some merit if he could actually be classed in the upper echelon of footballers. David Beckham is without doubt a good footballer but great? Not for me thanks.

Mentally, he is almost peerless. There are few players as hard-working and committed as Becks (no-one gives more for the shirt blah, blah, blah) but for actual ability the man is seriously lacking. Being able to kick a ball (By which I mean his excellent range of passing and set-pieces) should not mask the fact that he is severely limited in many other areas of his game. A one-dimensional player who cant tackle, has no pace, cant beat a man, is rubbish in the air and is questionable from the penalty spot doesn't not deserve the praise he gets as a player. At the risk of indulging in the improbably, if FIFA ever implemented a no over-head-height rule, where would Beckham be? If someone like Wayne Rooney were surrounded by such fanfare it would still be grating but understandable giving his undoubted footballing qualities.

It's as if the celebrity has infiltrated the football side of things to the point where the adverts he appears in and what his wife is wearing are considered 'Sports News'. For someone of such limited talent it is bizarre that every move he makes in the world of football is treated like some ridiculous soap opera? Aside from the furore following France 98, a simple dressing room row with his manager (because such a thing NEVER happens in football...) made both front and back page news and had far too many column inches speculating about a mysterious scar about our hero's eye.

Going Global

The Rowdies later sold Beckham to Real Madrid to become one of their 'Galacticos'. Cue mass hysteria. The fact that Beckham was being mentioned in same breath as the Figos and Zidanes and Ronaldos of this world was laughable and it's no secret that Mr. Spice was merely in place to sell shirts. Was it a coincidence that Madrid's form dipped dramatically after Beckham signed? One token league title at the end of his tenure to me does not equate to a successful spell in the Spanish capital.

Concerning that title, one of the great myths about Beckham was that once again, he faced up to the adversity of being dropped by Madrid manager at the time Fabio Capello only to come roaring back to help his club secure the title. Actually, anyone who actually watches Spanish football and saw the title run in that season would tell you that Beckham's contribution was nothing compared to that of the free-scoring Ruud van Nistelrooy, the midfield stability of Mamadou Diarra, the emergence of Gonzalo Higuain and the goal-keeping solidity of Iker Casilas. In fact, the game that actually clinched the title saw Beckham SUBBED while Real were 1-0 down. The player who replaced him, Jose Antonio Reyes, ended up bagging 2 goals in an eventual 3-1 win.

Beckham then decided to take semi-retirement and follow the dollar, dollar bills to LA to play for a team comically referred to as 'The Galaxy'. Beckham's reasoning was that he, with his profile, was to help enhance the popularity of soccerball in the states. Instead what has happened is that you have a load of people walking around wearing replica shirts with BECKHAM on the back, 90% of whom have probably never even watched a minute of MLS (Which incidentally, is probably of no better standard than the Saturday league I play in). What has really been enhanced here? The popularity of football in the States or the popularity of 'Brand Beckham'?

Fast forward to the present day and needless to say it the experiment was a resounding failure with even his team mates criticising his contribution. The had led to him running back to Europe with his tail between his legs to make rare cameo appearances on loan for an ageing and poor AC Milan side. People would argue that if he's not good enough to start for this side, then what business does he have in a team with serious ambition of winning the World Cup?

One man, three lions, no glory

But yet, up until Sunday's unfortunate injury, he has managed to somehow stay in the England fold and courting controversy over his ever-increasing number of England caps.

Being so self-absorbed and more concerned with what he is doing off the pitch while being devoid any leadership of leadership qualities on it meant that I was never on board with giving him the armband. However, I've never had an issue with Beckham PLAYING for England. His set-piece and crossing ability tends to bear fruit on occasion and I feel it says more about his potential replacements that he is still in consideration. Wright-Philips has regressed, Pennant (who?) was never good enough, Bentley couldn't seem to maintain his Blackburn form at Spurs, Lennon finally learned what 'end product' was but became crocked and Walcott still has a long, long way to go.

Last February, Beckham reached a personal milestone of England caps (equalling the 108 won by the late, great World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore) and yet again, this could not pass without an unnecessary amount of coverage. People felt it necessary to draw no end of comparisons which, in my opinion should be put to bed with the simple fact that Bobby Moore won the World Cup in an era of no substitutes while Becks' most recent caps have been nothing more than generous tokenism by Capello. Furthermore, with the exception of Germany '06, Beckham had flattered to deceive in the previous international tournaments in which he featured. The penalty against Argentina in 2002 was indeed a great moment but not even the most one-eyed Beckham fan can say he performed with any distinction in the far east.

Beckham's other great moment was the last minute free-kick against Greece to qualify for Japan/Korea and it would be remiss of me to ignore that but the fact that almost a decade on this is still the best moment of his England career (an EQUALISER against GREECE!!) makes you wonder why his selection or non-selection is such a point of contention.

Green and Golden Balls

But then again, what is straightforward in the life of Beckham? Just last week, after the Rowdies thumped AC Milan 4-0, the main talking points were not about how good the performance was, how good Wayne Rooney was/is, how far the mighty Milan have fallen but rather the fact that Mr. Beckham chose to wear one of those stupid green and gold scarves at full time. MAN WEARS SCARF ON COLD NIGHT IN MANCHESTER made front page news not just in the red tops but also the broadsheets. Of course, the reason for this was that it seemed to suggest Becks was throwing his support behind the pointless anti-Glazer protests currently taking place whenever United play. The man himself has since come out and claimed he never knew the significance of the scarf despite, in his words, being a Manchester United fan. I very much doubt he has been sitting in a cave with his fingers in his ears and his eyes shut because pretty much everyone in football knows the significance of those colours.

In truth, he may or may not be supporting the cause. It's irrelevant either way. What in fact he was actually doing by donning the scarf was making sure that the night and the 'story' was about David Beckham and the actual football was merely a side issue. Not for the first time either.

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