Saturday 3 December 2016

Anointed one pulls the strings in his own great puppet show

Dion Fanning

Published 16/01/2011 | 05:00

Perhaps the most welcome consequence of the David Beckham phenomenon is that only the truly bone-headed still refer to him as "thick".

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You will still find these people, usually they are political commentators or members of the legal profession, inexplicably asked for an opinion which they deliver with a winsome smile, often prefaced by how they don't know much about football. They then move on to demonstrate how little they know about anything with an answer notable only for its egregiousness.

Apart from anything else, they judge Beckham on his words, unaware that in this, as in so much, he has been a trailblazer.

He lives in the perpetual present and he lives there very well, taking a sort of benign revenge against the forces of logic and reason which suggest he should no longer be doing whatever it is he does.

Words, sentences, whole interviews are all merely holding statements for Beckham. He can say he regrets leaving Manchester United or would never dream of playing against them in the Premier League while every action is sending him in the opposite direction.

His words are a sort of "everything is going to be ok" for the world. We take comfort when people say that to us while knowing that everything isn't going to be ok.

So we could laugh at his vacuity for a while before we realised that his vacuity is absolutely necessary, the comforting exterior that hides the reality, the relentless sell.

Beckham is always heading for new frontiers. For a time, while he was still involved in competitive sport, they talked about how he now played "the quarterback role", neglecting to mention that there is no quarterback role in football. That didn't matter. Nobody played it better than Beckham.

Now his ability as a footballer is considered irrelevant to the deal that might see him play for Tottenham Hotspur for a couple of months.

Harry Redknapp admitted he hadn't seen him play in quite some time but nobody is too concerned by that. There are suggestions that Beckham is being signed to play a major role in Tottenham's Champions League game against Milan.

He will be sent on in the last 20 minutes when Spurs need to close out the game. If they don't need to close out the game, his role is more uncertain but we can be sure he will perform some ambassadorial duties on the sideline and, as Tim Sherwood said, "good luck to him".

There are other suggestions, made by Karren Brady among others, that Beckham's signing for Tottenham is linked to their desire to move to London's Olympic Stadium. Tottenham's partners in their Olympic Stadium bid are AEG, who happen to own LA Galaxy.

Brady is not a disinterested observer as her club West Ham also want to move to the stadium. She expressed a hope that Beckham wasn't being used as a "puppet", a claim that was dismissed by a Beckham spokesman as "laughable". They know that Beckham is no puppet, even if Brady may also be right to bring up the link.

Everybody believes Beckham can get them something, even when the opposite turns out to be the case.

Dave Zirin, the American sportswriter, has catalogued the relentless drive for American sports franchises to go wherever they can get the most public money towards a stadium.

In this, we have a last great example of the type of capitalism that destroyed the world: taxpayers taking the risk for the "vision and adventure" of speculators who let others deal with the speculation.

FIFA run the World Cup on similar principles, but Tottenham are now attempting a straightforward aping of the American model as they move out of the area that gave them their name.

Spurs are already pointing to the prohibitive cost of rebuilding White Hart Lane and say they would save £200 million by moving to Stratford.

If they want to save money, they could just leave White Hart Lane as it is, one of the few redeveloped stadiums that has managed to retain the atmosphere of the old football grounds. But they want more than that and now they have the opportunity to share the cost.

Nobody asks if the savings will then be used to subsidise tickets for people in the area who are already discovering that the Olympic legacy isn't much of a legacy for them, just as the Olympics isn't really for them either.

Instead they talk of the fine hospitality that the new stadium would provide, a suitable venue to watch world-class football, even if it's in a location that has nothing to do with the football club.

Beckham's few months, if they are confirmed, should have no influence in that regard but he is now effectively a lobbyist so anything can happen.

He is "a great ambassador for football". Sherwood, one of Tottenham's coaches as well as one of the world's worst pundits, braved what Sky was calling the Beckham Fever at Tottenham's training ground to talk about what he would bring to the side. Mainly, he would bring an

ambassadorial air. Sherwood talked at length about what a fine ambassador Becks was, how much ambassadorial work he does and how impressive it is to witness this ambassador in person. Nobody asked the simple question: have you seen him play recently?

Les Ferdinand, another Spurs coach, has wondered what exactly Beckham is supposed to bring to the team, clearly missing the briefing when it was explained that he was being signed to play for 20 minutes in the San Siro.

Ferdinand went on to praise Beckham's professionalism or, if you like, his ambassadorial air. Soon somebody will suggest that what Beckham brings to a club is his lifetime achievement award from the BBC or his imminent knighthood.

If anyone can bring an ambassadorship onto the football pitch, Beckham can.

He can combine it with his quarterback role and his knighthood, impressing people at all times with these positions which have little to do with football.

He can play until he's 40 or, seeing as playing has nothing to do with it, 50 or even 60. Stanley Matthews is in his sights.

Beckham lives in the eternal now where everything, always and forever, is going to be ok.

dfanning@independent.ie

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