Tuesday, 22 December 2009

David Beckham has paid the price for leaving Manchester United in search of global fame

The memories will come surging back for David Beckham when he steps down from the AC Milan team coach outside Old Trafford at 6.15pm on March 10 and waves to the hundreds of Manchester United supporters who gather early to see the stars.Beckham will nod to familiar faces, those stewards and club staff who have inhabited this famous stadium for decades. Like him, they are lifelong United fans. Unlike him, they could never imagine not being here. At 7.35pm, Beckham will return to the tunnel, encountering fellow-alumni from United's starlet-filled 1992 FA Youth Cup-winning team. The cameras will linger on the handshakes and words of greeting between Beckham and Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. Friends reunited.

As he marches towards the pitch, stepping out into this grand arena to a tumultuous welcome, Beckham may be tempted to glance across and note the still sinewy figure lost in concentration about the task ahead, oblivious to all the pomp and ceremony. It will be Ryan Giggs, the captain of that remarkable 1992 side, the player Beckham bought his first car off (a £6,000 Ford Escort). Giggs will be staring intently ahead, preparing himself for the challenge as he has for the past 19 years.

Beckham will notice that age has not withered Giggs, barring a distinguished dash of grey around the temples, rather befitting his statesman's position in the game. The physique remains whippet-lean and, when the game springs into life, Giggs' desire for the ball, for attacking and for victory will be as strong as Beckham remembered it.

It is in this moment, as the Stretford End sings "Giggs, Giggs will tear you apart again'' that Beckham may fully realise the magnitude of the decision he took in 2003, swapping the red of United for the white of Real Madrid. Perhaps he had to go. A tension gripped the dressing-room. Sir Alex Ferguson had grown concerned over the player's celebrity lifestyle in the wake of his marriage to Victoria Adams, aka Posh Spice.

In truth, Beckham's dedication to his vocation was never in question.

Assigned to shadow the couple as they went out for a meal, one reporter checked with a restaurant what they had consumed. Their choices were fish (no sauce) and mineral water (still). Not much of a scoop. Not even of ice cream.

Beckham kept himself incredibly fit and never complained about being dropped. When called upon by Ferguson in the Champions League against, of all people, Madrid, he responded with a bravura cameo display, almost nicking the tie for United. But the parting of the ways was imminent.

Madrid's siren call was irresistible. The glamour of the Bernabeu is undeniable and Beckham has always been drawn to glamour. Financially, the transfer lifted him to another level. Brand Beckham would be enhanced globally.

And yet. As play gets under way at Old Trafford on March 10, United's old No 7 may look at the ageless No 11 and think of what he's missed out on.

Since Beckham took up his globe-trotting, first with Madrid and now with this strange time-share arrangement between Milan and LA Galaxy, Giggs has collected another Champions League trophy, three more Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups, three Community Shields and a Fifa Club World Cup. The Welsh winger is the current PFA Player of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Beckham has also been honoured by Auntie's viewers, back in 2001 following that unforgettable goal against Greece at Old Trafford, but his haul post-United is singularly modest. After four years with Madrid, he eventually won La Liga. His recall by Fabio Capello against Real Sociedad on Feb 10 2007 undoubtedly gave Real impetus, pushing them closer to Barcelona.

Yet the trophy was secured only in the final game against Mallorca when Beckham was removed and Jose Antonio Reyes sent on to rescue Real.

Only the churlish would forget the 2003 Spanish Super Cup and the 2009 MLS Western Conference title, hardly heavyweight but baubles nonetheless.

Otherwise the trophy trail has gone cold for Beckham since turning his back on United. He has gained millions more in wealth, not to mention eight more tattoos, but nothing compared to the sporting riches Giggs has amassed.

So for all the joy that Beckham understandably feels at the thought of running out on Old Trafford's famous pitch again, Giggs stands as a reminder that the grass is not always greener. This is no style-versus-substance debate. Beckham has enough talent and commitment. He simply chose a different path to Giggs, the wrong one if his ambition was more glory.

Giggs also endured tricky times at Old Trafford but never had Beckham's wander-lust. He fought for his place, won over the terrace critics, remodelled his game intelligently and is now a national treasure.

In an era when television can make anyone famous for 15 minutes, Giggs' constancy is even more special. So whither Beckham? Is the man from Hollywood simply disappearing down sunset boulevard? He will be a bit-part player for England in the summer.

Having shown a capacity for writing his own headlines, particularly in the early years, Beckham will desperately want to script an Indian summer to his club career.

First, he must force his way into the Milan team. If Andrea Pirlo is untouchable as the deep-lying tempo-setter in Leonardo's three-man midfield, then the loan-star from LA must compete with Gennaro Gattuso and Massimo Ambrosini. Each will respond vigorously to the Englishman's challenge.

With Ronaldinho or Clarence Seedorf providing the central attacking thrust towards Alexandre Pato and Marco Borriello, there seems no room for Beckham further forward either. Now that would be embarrassing: Beckham emerging from the tunnel, waving to the United supporters and then heading for the bench as Giggs continues on to the field, continues rolling back the years.

No comments: