Beckham turns on the charm
Published 02/12/2010 | 05:00
only once yesterday did David Beckham find himself lost for words. "Oh my god, you've got me all flustered," he told a female television reporter who had just asked him how he managed to stay "so beautiful."
Beckham has been fielding those kind of nonsense, puffball questions all his career and his aw-shucks response has always proved a winner. But it was how he handled the rest of yesterday's set-piece England 2018 bid press conference that will resonate, whether his country are triumphant or not today.
The debate about Beckham the footballer, not to mention Beckham the personality, is so polarised that it can be hard to have a sensible discussion about him. His critics say he is a fraud; his adoring public at Wembley only need sight of a tattooed arm to break out the standing ovation. So, just one simple point about him: yesterday, Beckham was brilliant.
English football has always sought a high-profile ex-player as an ambassador like Germany has Franz Beckenbauer and France has Michel Platini. Of course, they both won trophies for their country which will never happen for Beckham now, but at 35 and with his last England cap probably behind him he is doing the next best thing: turning up the full wattage of his charm to try to win the 2018 World Cup for England.
Beckham has the unusual quality of being completely plausible to the extent that when he declares himself "a traditionalist" brought up by his "nan and grandad" to admire the royal family, you find yourself thinking: why not? When he promises the world that the English media will behave themselves and get behind an English World Cup, there is no one else who could say that without fear of ridicule.
In Becks' world, there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome by either "looking at the positives" or recalling a salient lesson from his old mentor Alex Ferguson.
"All the way through my career, especially playing for Manchester United, I knew how important it was to keep fighting to the last minute," he said yesterday as if the last 24 hours of lobbying were no simpler than picking out Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from a corner.
What Beckham did so effectively for England's bid yesterday was to blow away the inconvenient details. The small matter of BBC's 'Panorama' investigation uncovering corruption in the Fifa executive committee (ExCo)? Beckham says he has smoothed it over with FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
The thorny question of whether Jack Warner will deliver the three Concacaf votes? Don't worry, Beckham promised to speak to him last night.
Crucial to his credibility as a public figure is his delivery, which has improved immeasurably. There was a time when he would recite the key message so blatantly that his media handlers might as well have saved him the bother and handed out the briefing sheet. Now he is smoother, more articulate and more relaxed.
Beckham still regards himself as a professional footballer above all and has still not given up on playing for England again. Beyond that he is not prepared to embrace the ambassadorial role for good.
"I was eating my breakfast watching Sky News and saw myself sat next to Prince William and the Prime Minister. I was getting messages from my mates saying, 'Really?' But it is something I have enjoyed, I never thought I would."
But the truth is that in modern Britain where politics, celebrity and even class are no longer mutually exclusive, Beckham is a natural bedfellow for a Prime Minister and a future King. And for all those who find the Beckham generation of footballer impossible to accept, should England win today it will be him who takes much of the credit, and deservedly so. (© Independent News Service)
How the vote works
The 22 members of FIFA's executive committee will meet today to vote on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.Holland/Belgium will start the bid presentations at 8.0 this morning followed by Spain/Portugal at 9.0, England at 10.0 and Russia at 11.0. At around 1.0 the secret ballot will begin, with a decision announced at 3.0.
- To win outright a bid must win 12 votes to gain an overall majority.
- Until an outright majority is achieved, voting will take place in rounds with the bidder with the fewest votes eliminated.
- If there is a tie for the lowest number of votes in any round, an intermediate voting round will be conducted, with votes solely on the tied bidders to determine which progresses.
- After the 2018 bid is concluded, the 2022 vote will take place, with Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea and the United States in contention.
- The winners of the two votes will be put into two envelopes and given to FIFA president Sepp Blatter to announce.