Desmond Kane

Envy of David Beckham remains a curiously British thing

Desmond Kane

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If David Beckham is considering returning to England for the final furlong of a career that has exceeded his own expectations, no matter how ridiculous they were during his formative years in Manchester United's youth system, he would be advised to leave the missus at home on match days.

It would not take much for the great thinkers of our time to dust down the old songbooks about Posh's apparent preferences, a litany of air-polluting tunes that reached a crescendo at the same time Beckham was England captain and rejoicing in his trademark wide berth representing Manchester United in the early part of the noughties.

Much of the derision Beckham continues to attract lies only in his native country, which is a shame but symptomatic of the way Britain has treated its most successful sportsmen over the years. And talent, some will argue. It is too simplistic to say he was not liked because he played for United. Build 'em up to knock 'em down has always been an unfortunate strand of thinking in this country's collective psyche.

Beckham was subjected to some rancid criticism by the media, and not just the red tops,  when he was sent off for aiming a sly kick at the Argentina player Diego Simeone during a 2-2 draw at the 1998 World Cup finals. England lost on penalties and England fans lost the plot, some characters crazily laying the blame of their country's demise solely at the feet of the young Beckham.

Effigies were burnt and death threats made as Beckham became a pariah in his home country. Like in the aftermath of Princess Diana's death, it was a time when people happily abandoned their senses.

Beckham never quite followed in the footsteps of P.G. Wodehouse. He recovered handsomely and remains a patriot, which says enough about his character, but 'Brand Beckham' continues to prompt a polarised debate in this country despite being one of its most successful exports. He seems to be reviled and revered in equal measure.

Of course, the British like their winners in sport. But they like them with flaws. There is nothing this country likes more than a fallen champion. Men like Alex Higgins, Ricky Hatton, Paul Gascoigne and Frank Bruno remain popular in sporting folklore because they somehow make folk feel even with life. Much of it is down to their ability to self-implode. These are very human frailties which Beckham has never possessed, in public at least. It tends to leave him as a figure of envy.

The fact that Beckham married a pop singer, is rich, successful, easy on the eye and British, brings out the old green-eyed monster in some people who are quick to make statements about him being an ego-driven footballer of average talent. All of which is complete balderdash.

I remember having an argument about Beckham being as effective as Ryan Giggs. I was quick to make the point that a player did not need to drift past several men to bewitch audiences. Beckham could do the damage with one swing of his right boot. Bend It Like Beckham? What other footballer has a film title dedicated to their shenanigans with a ball and pair of trusty Predators?

Beckham may not be jet-heeled, but his game has been built on his use of the ball, delectable crossing, stamina and utter professionalism. It was never founded on drifting by opponents.

For a supposed "average" player, Beckham has done it all in football. He won six Premier Leagues, two FA Cups and the Champions League with United. He lifted the Spanish title and Super Cup with Real Madrid. He snagged the Major League Soccer Cup with Los Angeles Galaxy. Throw in a couple of loan spells with AC Milan, and it is all good.

He won 115 England caps, but was decried as a publicity hunter by some hacks when he announced his decision to depart his post as England captain in a teary speech after the World Cup finals in 2006. Newspaper sales have been boosted by his very being, yet the same organs mocked him.

There was one truly mind-numbing article regarding Beckham in one of the broadsheets a few years ago that stuck out like the free-kick he walloped in against Greece in helping England reach the 2002 World Cup finals. He was at the time stuck on 99 caps after being initially shunned by the unfortunate national coach Steve McClaren. His failure to pass the century was written about as an example that all men have to accept shortcomings in life.

Of course, McClaren saw the error of his ways when he opted to recall Beckham because nobody could bend it like him in England's green and pleasant lands.

Becks has helped to sell the game in America more than Pele managed in the 1970s. That may be due to new media and the world becoming a global village. Much of it is down to the individual.

Football in America will miss Beckham when LA is no longer his lady. "There is no doubt that the MLS is far more popular and important here and abroad than it was when he arrived," said the MLS commissioner Don Garber last night.

Beckham could have chucked it long before now. He could have followed his old United companion Lee Sharpe onto celebrity Love Island, but his love of the game should only be admired.

He would lift the profile of the game in Australia, but it may be too much of a sleepy hollow for him to pen the final tune of his grand opus.

Victoria Beckham once said that her husband was the "good looking one" in their relationship, but the ongoing midfielder's relationship with football remains as much a marriage of fascination.

At the age of 37, his longevity should be applauded amid a life of distraction. It is just a shame that Beckham has received a warmer welcome elsewhere, most notably in the US, Spain and Italy, than in his homeland. Whatever he tries next in the game, he should stay clear of England.

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