Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wenger's Hand in Beckham Transfer

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wenger's Hand in Beckham Transfer

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID MELLOR

ONE man is to blame for the Beckham debacle: Arsene Wenger. Is he mad, I hear you ask? Bear with me.

Manchester United won the Championship by default. If Arsenal had maintained any semblance of their previous form, United's magnificent final charge wouldn't have been enough. And for the second season running the Reds would have been potless.

Hardly the best base from which Sir Alex Ferguson to remove David Beckham.

He'd have been fighting for his own survival, not deciding Beckham's fate.

As it happens, Wenger might have done Arsenal a favour, particularly if he makes it a double whammy by signing Harry Kewell.

United are weakened by the absence of a player who was red to the core and if his only replacement is the flaky Ronaldinho, who gives the impression the only thing he would die for is another lay, United will be even less unstoppable next season than they should have been last.

Of the players projected as likely to be bought, Kewell is the only one with the Beckham largesse who would make a difference.

Anyway, the Beckham money seems largely illusory. The fee isn't [pounds sterling]25million, it's [pounds sterling]18m unless performance targets are met. Unusually, it is to be paid in five tranches over the full four years of the contract. So the money actually available to United next season is about [pounds sterling]7m. No wonder a spokesman for Shareholders United has said: "We're losing one of our most famous ever players at a snip.

There's a touch of the amateur hour about this and something has clearly gone wrong on United's side of the negotiating table."

Yes, indeed, and all because the process appears to have been driven not by commercial criteria but by Ferguson's obsessive-desire to finish with Beckham. As a consequence the transfer was undeniably badly botched, yielding less than it should, and in the process gravely damaging the club's reputation for decency and probity.

And that will be the lasting impact of this fiasco. The United hierarchy look like empty suits dancing to the tune of an increasingly erratic and spiteful old man. I can still remember United in the aftermath of the Munich disaster, when friends and foes alike thought there was a genuine nobility about the way Matt Busby and his board set about rebuilding the club. And as a consequence, for years thereafter, Manchester United seemed a bit different, a bigger and better club than they actually were.

Now, no amount of success on the pitch can obscure the impression that Old Trafford these days is populated by cheapskates - pygmies posturing before the footlights in the robes of past giants.

Stamping out Kiwi foul play

THEY used to say a British boxer fighting in America had to knock his opponent out to get a draw.

And the odds seemed to be loaded the same way if you're an English rugby player in New Zealand who's had his head viciously stamped on by one of the locals.

I've often congratulated rugby on the speed with which they resolve disciplinary issues compared with football, but it can't be right to have an issue of this seriousness dealt with by two Kiwis and an Aussie. It's a bit like Al Capone's friends deciding the St Valentine's Day Massacre was the worst case of suicide they'd ever seen.

If international rugby is to banish the sort of foul play that can cause the loss of an eye they'd better establish a system of independent international assessors, and the sooner the better. …

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