David Beckham’s decision to leave Real Madrid and move to LA Galaxy is effectively a kind of retirement; an acceptance that he’s not going to be part of an England team that wins a trophy and that this year is his last chance to be part of another Champion’s League winning team. I suspect that it’s those trophies he measures his career in; that deep down, all those Premiership and FA Cup winners’ medals are second best. That’s a testament to just how dominant that Manchester United team of the 90s was, but also to the real drive and ambition of Beckham. I guess that means that by his own standards, he’s a failure; but I tend to admire him for aiming high rather than blame him for falling short. If more England players held themselves to the same high standards and had the same kind of work ethic, we might have won something since 1966.
The Premiership has been less interesting in his absence; sport is, among other things, a form of entertainment, and it needs people who generate buzz. Of course the competition still has its stars — Jose Mourinho and Christiano Ronaldo spring to mind — but Becks was, for a period, not just a famous sportsman or a celebrity, but a genuinely glamorous old-school superstar. And however silly much of the attention ultimately was — the hairstyles, the homoerotic photoshoots, the diamonds, the clothes, the tattoos, the wedding — it was all harmless fun which added to the gaiety of life. There’s also the football. Perhaps some people got quickly bored by the sight of opposition defenders standing around disconsolately with their hands on their hips, having just seen a free kick flash past them into the corner of the goal. Personally I could watch it all day.
Perhaps in a year or two, when the dust has settled and England fans have had some time to realise that players who can produce match-winning moments of brilliance aren’t easy to find, we’ll have less of the crap about Beckham being ‘over-rated’. It’s true, he’s not a Zidane or a Maradona or a Ronaldinho in terms of sheer talent, and he wasn’t the kind of player who could regularly dominate a match, but he was still better than nearly every player I’ve ever seen play for England. Even now, past his best, he’s better than most.
It feels like I’m writing an obituary. Footballers are like mayflies; one minute they’re gangly young things, full of potential, and then before you know it they’re struggling to keep up with the pace of the game and having to find something else to do with the rest of their lives. The rumour is that Becks wants to be a movie star, a prospect I find slightly horrifying. But it’s hard to see what else he could do. I imagine he wants to keep in the spotlight, but he doesn’t seem like an obvious candidate for commentator or manager. Fashion designer? Politician? Raconteur?