Difficult to interpret David Beckham’s ‘celebrity exuberance’ decision as a mistake
Alex Ferguson’s new book is full of praise for Barcelona, who he identifies as the best team he ever faced
Alex Ferguson says David Beckham’s football was affected by his celebrity lifestyle in his new and controversial autobiography.
Alex Ferguson’s new book is full of praise for Barcelona, who he identifies as the best team he ever faced. The one caveat he raises is that he could never figure out how their key players could play so many games.
Real Madrid knocked Ferguson’s United out of Europe three times but he is less respectful of their tradition, which he describes as “all-out attack and celebrity exuberance”.
Ferguson takes a dim view of “celebrity exuberance”, as he makes plain in the chapter about David Beckham, which consists of Ferguson clucking and tutting about Beckham’s career choices as though the player had ended up sleeping in a doorway.
Ten years after selling Beckham to Real Madrid, Ferguson still refuses to give him any credit for knowing his own mind. In his view, Beckham threw away his chance of becoming “an absolute top-dog player” after falling under the fatal influence of his wife.
An alternative view is that Beckham always knew that he wasn’t quite gifted enough to be the best footballer in the world. He might, however, have a chance of being the richest and most famous. So he did what he had to do. You play to your strengths.
It’s difficult to imagine that Beckham’s career could have been more successful had he concentrated on football alone. “He could have been one of the greatest Man United legends,” Ferguson says. Like Roy Keane? Keane gave himself up to Ferguson’s cause, body and soul, and his reward is to be trashed in his former manager’s book.
At some point – maybe the moment when Ferguson kicked a boot into his face in the course of a dressing-room row – Beckham decided there was more to life than serving Alex Ferguson.
In the spring of 2003, he was approaching his 28th birthday. He had already won the Champions League with Manchester United and was about to add a sixth Premier League title. What were his options? He could stay and maybe win another league title or two, until Ferguson decided he’d outlived his usefulness, like Paul Ince, Mark Hughes or Jaap Stam. Or he could strike out on his own. He ended up becoming the most famous footballer in history and amassing a nine-digit fortune. In hindsight, it’s difficult to interpret his decision to embrace celebrity exuberance as a mistake.
Unless you’re Ferguson, whose lack of understanding of Beckham’s achievement is as evident as his scorn for it. “Imagine Gary Neville with fashion photographers: ‘Could you bloody hurry up!’” he writes. Imagine fashion photographers with Gary Neville, though. Neville was a good soldier to the end, and as such has Ferguson’s approval, but who can say what choices he might have made if he’d had the options that were available to Beckham?