Banishment of Beckham

By Barnes, Simon | The Spectator, February 26, 2000 | Go to article overview

Banishment of Beckham


Barnes, Simon, The Spectator


WHEN a father meets a son at the crossroads, it is generally the beginning rather than the end of a story. The inevitable row about precedence is never the final word in the matter. The rest of the tale must unwind its slow and dreadful length.

'You win nothing with kids,' Alan Hansen, the television football pundit, memorably said when Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, set out to conquer the world with a band of very talented, very loyal and very young men.

But Ferguson won everything. He required very little of his boys, his pseudo-sons, apart from total commitment, total obedience, total subjection of individuality to the common cause. That is to say, Ferguson's cause.

A remarkable bunch: Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville ... and that chap Beckham. Yes, him again. Probably the most talented, certainly the most turbulent, and infinitely the most gaudy. But not the most disobedient; there is no competition at all here - Beckham is the only one ever to have shown even a trace of disobedience.

Last weekend Manchester United beat Leeds United and took what will probably be a decisive lead in the Premiership. The story of the day, however, was David Beckham. Beckham did not play; he was not even a sub. The most important picture was not Andy Cole's winning goal but Beckham, banished to the stands, a baseball cap tugged low over his face, allowing the occasional glimpse of the famous boyish bumfluff and those haunted eyes. What was he thinking?

Like all contrite sons, he was probably planning his retribution. He missed training the previous Friday, and that was a form of naked defiance. …

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