The ultimate wheeler-dealer

2009-03-06 00:00

ONLY he could pull it off, but one has to wonder what David Beckham’s latest career decision is going to mean for professional footballers.

It has been dubbed a “timeshare” agreement, with Becks splitting his time over the next six months between cosmopolitan Milan and chaotic Los Angeles.

Never mind that the former English captain insisted it was purely a move engineered to keep him fit when he joined AC Milan last November. Now that he has taken quite a liking to life in Serie A, complete with its mild melodramas and exaggerated butt-slapping, Goldenballs has found himself in a rather interesting pickle.

Dubbed the saviour of U.S. soccer when he joined them from the mighty Real Madrid, he does get around does ol’ Becks. One almost forgets that he used to ferret along the right for the Red Devils of Manchester. How time flies, indeed. Almost as quickly as a boot flies off a manager’s foot onto one’s eye. But that is another story altogether.

The point of this piece is to ponder on the possibilities that Beckham’s groundbreaking deal could present. Will we see, perhaps, Didier Drogba splitting his time between Stamford Bridge and a short stint at Sydney FC? Or perhaps Messi could use his spare time during the Spanish siesta period at Christmas to don the colours of Boca Juniors for a few tasty derbies? Not for the first time, Beckham will hit the front pages for what he has done off the field instead of his exploits on it.

And let’s get something straight. Beckham is an honest professional; nothing more and certainly nothing less. He has a wand-like right foot, but he lacks pace, skill and any physical presence. His absence is almost always keenly felt only in an injury crisis.

Beckham, truth be told, is a modern footballer. He has a modern Wag, with a modern lifestyle and a modern sense of business. He goes where he feels most likely to be in the limelight. Let’s not forget that the self-same Becks declared his desire to put U.S. soccer on the map. He pledged to see out his best days in the backwaters of the States, while picking up a measly £25 million a season. For five years.

He had the option of going to Milan, Barcelona or even back to England. But, he plumped for the Galaxy option, with all its half-empty stadia, uninformed groupie fans and conference playoffs. The only surprise is that it took master Beckham nearly three years to acknowledge his error. Of course, he must have had some doubt. How else does one explain a clause to break his contract after three seasons?

Beckham is the ultimate marketing tool. Even when the free-kicks dry up, he will still light up the silver screen for his employers and sponsors. As it stands, Milan are the overwhelming benefactors of this arrangement. They keep him on loan until the end of the season, then watch him go off with his tail between his legs to his rather irritated Galaxy employers.

The fact that Milan did not stump up the 12 million or so pounds required to buy Becks outright also shows how far they think the honeymoon will last. Becks is most certainly running on borrowed time. He must be lauded for continuously bouncing back from setbacks that would have spelt the end for most in his field of industry.

He has endured, and more than that he has played for three of the world’s most glamourous clubs. At each club, the situation suited both parties.

He was made in Manchester, but grew too big for his Predator boots and got, well, the boot. Madrid was the perfect replacement, with its pedigree, galactico culture — not to mention its Adidas connection. Four years and one major trophy later, Becks was ready for another challenge.

Hindsight, being the wonder that it is, suggests that he should have given Europe another go. He is simply too good to play in the MLS, but he is fading, and will soon struggle to hold a place in a major club’s starting line-up. Then would have been the perfect time to retire happily among Hollywood’s finest. One can only imagine the reception he will get on July 18 when he slips back into the States for his final furlong.

Seldom has Beckham been loved by everyone, but he has rarely broken his word, either. He will face a storm from angry season-ticket holders who feel betrayed. Should he care? Will he care? I can’t see it. He has even gone to the extent of buying out a large portion of his contract, so a few boos from the Galaxy’s limited fan base will hardly give him sleepless nights.

The real worry for Becks is next year. And that really brings me to the parting shot.

The pull of our wonderful nation, even in the middle of June, has convinced the world’s most overpaid model/businessman/schemer and part-time player to undergo a complicated set of negotiations to ensure he boards the plane to OR Tambo.

Now that really is something to be proud of. Let’s just hope it’s not SAA who fly him in.

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