Category: Archive

Flash, dash, mediocrity

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

His arms spread wide, he dropped to one knee and let the adoration wash over him. After a few seconds, his manic gaze turned away from the fans and he stared meaningfully and directly into the closest photographer’s lens. Then, and only then, did he decide it might actually be incumbent upon him to go and pat Campbell on the back, the Arsenal center-half being the man who had just made the well-timed run and excellent jump to guide home Beckham’s corner. In the cult of the player the Japanese lovingly call Bekk-hommm, it seems nobody does more to propagate the myth than the man himself.
When somebody celebrates delivering a standard-issue in-swinging corner like he’s just produced a pass perhaps only half a dozen other players in the world could manage, something is not right. Almost a year later, Alex Ferguson was entirely justified in dropping him from his starting lineup against Real Madrid last. (United last the Champions’ League showdown on a 6-5 aggregate). It was a decision that reportedly went down very well in a locker room, where many realize their most famous colleague has become far more about style than substance. When the chips were down, some United players fancied going into battle with the grittier flair of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer available to them rather than the one-footed wonder of the right wing. Despite the ridiculous fantasies of some English journalists, opting for the Norwegian over the clothes horse made precious little difference on the night. Regardless of who filled the United shirts at Old Trafford, Roberto Carlos and company would have done more or less as they pleased against a selection of inferior opponents.
Beckham subsequently gave his supporters in the media ammunition by running around wildly once he came on, and, it has to be said, produced one sublime free-kick. However, his alleged heroics came during the phase of the game known in the NBA as “garbage time,” when the outcome is no longer in serious doubt and any scoring feat becomes diminished currency. Beckham entered the stage at a time in this contest when Vicente Del Bosque had withdrawn Ronaldo, his best player, from the fray, confident that his team were in no danger of being ousted. Sure, United showed some purpose and energy in the last 20 minutes, but the evidence of the previous 70 and the first leg was that Real would have scored another one or two if the need arose. That they lost on the night mattered not a jot to a team already thinking of the semifinals. To suggest anything else is balderdash.
In their rush to defend Beckham against the mean, horrid Mr. Ferguson, the tabloids and broadsheets ignored the two main reasons behind United’s continued failure in the Champions’ League. First, Ferguson is a waning power in the transfer market, prone to buying headline players at the highest price without ever checking whether they represent good value or a proper fit for the team. Notwithstanding Ruud Van Nistelroy, he’s come a long way from the times he used to scout a Peter Schmeichel or a Denis Irwin or a Solskjaer and turn them into superstars. Now he either buys badly, Diego Forlan, or takes an available superstar like Veron and gambles he will adapt to the team and the game in England.
The second main factor is a bit more poignant than mere business. Since his return from his hip operation and most obviously last Wednesday night, Roy Keane has looked a shadow of himself, like an aged prize fighter ambling around the ring wondering where the legs and the power he used to have are gone. There are still cameos of his old excellence, but after 13 high-intensity years in England, he increasingly looks like a guy with too much mileage on the clock, searching for gears that are no longer available. Throw in the debilitating effect of some serious injuries and it’s easy to surmise, as many are doing, that we could be witnessing the last few weeks of one of the great Irish careers of all time. Except, we beg to differ.
According to sources in Manchester, this may not be the final act after all. The medical professionals at the club believe Keane is about 70 percent fit and are planning an intensive summer of gym work and further rehab to get him closer to where he used to be. Maybe it can be done. Certainly, the hurt in the eyes of the United captain as he sat on the bench during the last few minutes of the Champions’ League quarterfinal suggest there may be enough rage within to fuel one more burst next season. Avid followers of Keane’s career have always believed he would step away from the glare abruptly (the wise money has long been on a Cantona-type exit) rather than linger on in a diminished form. With United looking set to clinch the Premiership, though, a summer yawning in front of him and the Ireland question finally laid to rest, it would be silly to write him off just yet.
Far better to point out that Beckham’s proposed move to Spain is predicated on a belief by the accountants at the Bernabeau that Real can recoup twice what they pay for his right foot in shirt sales alone. Given that the floppy-haired one and his wife (whose 15 minutes of Spice Girl fame are long gone) presently earn seven-figure sums for flogging couches in Japan, Madrid are rightly concluding that it would be worth getting this guy on board as a cash cow even if he’d bring very little to the side itself. If Madrid wanted to improve what is already a dream team, it’s Paul Scholes, an uglier but infinitely more talented United midfielder, that they’d be looking at.

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