Beckham down

On a global level, there is no bigger football star than David Beckham. He may not be the greatest soccer player in the world, but there is arguably no other person that has done more to promote the game worldwide than Mr. Posh Spice. Personally, when I think of soccer, I think of the Brazilian national team, British commentators and, well, David Beckham. Generally speaking, this is the limit of my soccer knowledge.

When situations arise when I’m expected to recount some (read: any) type of insider knowledge on the topic of soccer, I usually end up scrambling for whatever small scraps of information are still rattling around in my brain and regurgitate them in ways that sound fancy and inspired.

Given that I operate almost exclusively on second-hand opinions in these matters, I was genuinely surprised to hear that David Beckham’s most recent injury, the one that’s keeping him from the World Cup, was such a big news story. Doesn’t he suck now? Isn’t he playing in the States? Why is this a big deal?

Instead of banging my head against the wall trying to figure out the intricacies and nuances of the game known to some as “football,” I decided to enlist the help of a friend who loves nothing more than to talk soccer. Let’s call him Andrew. Andrew will help us all to understand what (in the world) Beckham’s injury means for England and for the world of soccer in general.

The Manitoban: Alright, so I thought Beckham was a has-been in the soccer world. When was his heyday? When was he too legit to quit?

Andrew: When he left from Manchester to Real Madrid he was basically the best — at least hyped up as the best. He had just won the Premier League and Madrid paid a ton of money to get him. That’s right around the time he was at his peak.
The second time, he got loaned out to Milan from L.A., so this year he was a starter. Everyone was saying good things about him, but he would still disappear and you wouldn’t see him for a game, so he’s been up and down for a bit. For the last three matches he was definitely up.

M.: Okay, he’s not bad now, he’s just inconsistent. If he’s been playing pretty good lately, doesn’t that mean that England effectively lost a major piece of their roster when he went down?

A.: Well, he was probably going to be a substitute anyway.

M.: Really?!

A.: England’s current coach [Fabio Capello] used to coach for Real Madrid around the time when Beckham came over, and they never saw eye-to-eye. If Beckham would have been on good form right up until the World Cup he would have probably started, but if he would have dipped there’s no way he would have got[ten] a starting position.

M.: So, if he was picked as a substitute, isn’t that the soccer equivalent of being a bench warmer? Like, someone who’s only really needed in case of some catastrophic emergency?

A.: The thing is, even if he was a sub, he could have been a super-sub. You put a guy like that on the field — who’s creative like he is, who’s fully rested while everyone else is tired — and he’ll really take over with his passing.

M.: OK, I’m starting to get the picture, but why such a big deal over the loss of a sub?

A.: The MLS [Major League Soccer] and the [European] leagues both begin and end their seasons at opposite times, so it’s technically possible to play for both the MLS and one of the European leagues in one year. Beckham wanted to play in Europe because he was told if he was playing in the MLS he wouldn’t be in proper game shape for the World Cup.
In splitting his time between the MLS and the European leagues, Beckham played at a professional level for nearly three years without any off-season break. He played consistently and for a long time just so he could be eligible for the England national team.

M.: Is it that big of a deal though? Didn’t they come in like seventh in the last World Cup?

A.: Actually, England is a favourite to win this year. They’ve got a really good team and a really good coach.

So, there you go. We all know that David Beckham regularly — scratch that — constantly receives first-class attention because of his celebrity: the man has both a fragrance and a major motion picture named after him. This particular story, though, is unique in that soccer fans are not talking about a player purely because of his name value, but rather because of his story.

The significance of England losing Beckham for the World Cup doesn’t lie in the fact that they’ve lost their most recognizable face, but that they’ve lost the player who likely sacrificed the most and worked the hardest to get there. It’s odd that such a sequence of events would draw so much empathy for one of the wealthiest, most successful people on the planet, but I suppose this story shows just how far certain individuals are willing to go to achieve something outside the realm of fame and fortune.

Beckham is already one of the most recognized, marketable people in the world. If he wanted to, he could retire several hundred times over and still have change left to buy a fleet of golden race cars. Generally speaking, Beckham is well-liked by most soccer fans — he is a good ambassador and a pretty decent player. It’s sad to see someone sacrifice so much time and effort but ultimately come up short.

At least, that’s what I’ll tell people when they ask me about soccer.