x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Part man, part marketing machine, Beckham strikes again

David Beckham has never been the best at what he does, but his ability to sell himself well is second to none.

Some headlines are inevitable. In hindsight, was there any doubt that David Beckham's adventure in Los Angeles would have a "Hollywood" ending?

Even before the confetti had settled following his LA Galaxy team's triumph in the US Major League Soccer final on Sunday, the ex-England captain was being hounded by the press to reveal if he's staying in LA. In true theatrical style, he left them wanting more.

But as anyone with a passing knowledge of his charmed career would tell you, a walk into the sunset is almost inevitable. LA Galaxy's merchandisers should start worrying: as with his two previous full-time clubs, Manchester United and Real Madrid, Beckham will leave as a champion.

Throughout his career, Beckham has enjoyed a love affair with destiny that would leave even Forrest Gump scratching his head with envy. As soon as he broke into United's first team as a youngster in 1995, the boy with the golden looks looked set for stardom; he eventually became the most recognisable footballer on the planet. The problem was, he was far from being the best footballer on the planet. In fact, it is arguable that football had never witnessed such a discrepancy between ability and fame. Basically, we all hated him.

But then again, if this world was fair, I'd be writing this about US international Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy's match winner and best player. But it's not. Plus, Beckham has nicer hair.

George Best, whose genius with a football took second place to his partying lifestyle, once said: "If I had been born ugly, you would never have heard of Pele." Not known for his modesty, Best (and his fans) believed that he would have been the top player of his time if he hadn't been so distracted by the ladies. On the other hand, it is tempting to say that if David Beckham had been born ugly, you would never have heard of David Beckham.

But that would be churlish. Beckham's professionalism, hard work, fitness and obsessive desire to succeed are beyond question. Those qualities helped to compensate for his good, but not great, talent and his distinct lack of pace.

Even at his best, Beckham was never the top player in any of the teams he has played for. At United, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were all superior players. At Madrid, the incomparable Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo were simply from a different footballing universe. Like Forrest, Beckham was always in the presence of greatness.

However, what Beckham does do well, he does better than anyone. And that is strike the ball with almost quantum precision. His finest moments have all come from that famous right boot. The goal from his own half against Wimbledon. The fabled injury-time free-kick against Greece in 2001 to clinch World Cup qualification for England, and his penalty against Argentina at those 2002 finals in Japan and Korea.

But the power of celebrity crushed all before it. Take the film Bend It Like Beckham - there's no film called Skip past four players, wrong-foot the goal-keeper and slot the ball into the net like Lionel Messi. Well, not yet at least.

While on loan to AC Milan in 2009, Beckham played at the The Sevens stadium in Dubai against another visiting team, Hamburg of Germany. Two things irritated me about him: he was absurdly slim and, in a brief meeting after the match, even more absurdly friendly. This was not the Beckham I had grown to know and hate in 1990s.

But there may be a tunnel at the end of all the light: Galaxy fans have been sceptical about his dedication to the cause, many calling him a "fraud". But, as with the only major setback in his career - the 1998 World Cup sending off and the resulting tabloid hate campaign - destiny continues to flutter its eyes at him.

He turned it around and, now, he's a champion again, even if it is in America.

So what next? Paris St Germain, among others, still want him. At 36 he could retire, his legacy assured. But don't bet against one more sequel. Run, David, run.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae