independent

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Plot twists guaranteed in latest episode of East End soap opera

David Beckham made a rare misstep last week. His decision to leave LA Galaxy was overshadowed by news in the real football world. Perhaps people no longer care about David Beckham's future which would be a perfectly reasonable position. Beckham might decide that he was the victim of circumstance and decide that he will simply have to make the same announcement again next week.

This may appear preposterous but Beckham learned longed ago that the only thing he had to do was to create a story and the rest would follow.

The revelation that a 37-year-old footballer would leave a club, long after most people assumed he had stopped playing, became a news story, although maybe not as much of a news story as Beckham had hoped.

The speculation is essential, the story arc must make sense, there is no point in Beckham leaving LA Galaxy on December 1 and signing for, say, Middlesbrough on December 2.

For some time, Beckham's gift has been to make the plot seem more compelling than the football.

Of course, he isn't alone. The Premier League is driven by the stories that some tire of at different points. The scandals and psychodramas create the context for the games for many people and Beckham figured this out as well. There has to be a link. The media love a link. At the right time, along comes West Ham's David Gold, providing the perfect link.

"He was an ambassador for the London 2012 bid and it would be a fantastic statement if he came to us. He's an East End boy and it would be a fitting end to his career. We've also been mindful of his value as an ambassador to help us secure the Olympic Stadium."

So Beckham had the story – the East End boy would return home and take an ambassadorial role which would be supplemented by the occasional appearance on the pitch for Sam Allardyce's side torpedoing balls towards Andy Carroll's contorting body.

Sam the football man was trying to make the right noises about a Beckham signing, stating that he would need to do a "fitness test" but Sam, like many in football, has been forced to come to terms with other realities. This Sam would know that in football there are other brands of bullshit besides his own and Beckham's is, even now, among the most potent.

So the Sam who has sat in plenty of meetings with Karren Brady and Davids Gold and Sullivan would understand the importance of Beckham's "value as an ambassador to help us secure the Olympic Stadium", with or without a fitness test.

Yet the other options quickly disappeared. PSG had been named as a possible home but since they last approached Beckham they have become a more serious club and one less eager to sign people in ambassadorial roles.

Beckham sent a video message to the unveiling of Alex Ferguson's statue but he may now regret not being there in person to hear Ferguson look upon the statue and declare, "I'm outliving death".

Beckham is a footballer outliving the end of his career by turning the end of his career into a story of its own.

* * * * *

There might have been a time when QPR would have been interested in Beckham in an ambassadorial role but they have discovered that they signed a number of ambassadors in the last year rather than actual players.

It's not easy to feel sorry for Mark Hughes but any manager who was left, after the injury to Andy Johnson, to rely on Djibril Cisse for goals deserves a little bit of understanding.

Cisse had been supported by Bobby Zamora, who was criticised by many recently when he admitted he didn't really like football.

Zamora merely stated that he was not much of a football fan. He also dealt with the questions about retirement which usually involve some mutterings about staying in the game by saying that "I'm not sure what I want to do after I finish playing but if it means watching football then I don't want to get involved".

Some felt Zamora should quit the game after these words, or at least go and play for Stoke. There was little wrong in what he said although it didn't always tally with the facts. Zamora would surely be a more accomplished finisher if he was simply doing a job. He often looks like he cares too much.

Tony Fernandes, QPR's owner, cares too, reassuring supporters for months that Hughes was the man for the job. Anybody who saw the compelling documentary The Four-Year Plan about the last regime at QPR would have noticed that sometimes these managerial sackings just accumulate despite all the best intentions. "If there was an idiot, we found him," one director said in the film.

So they kept getting rid of the idiots. Hughes was not an idiot and Fernandes is different to the previous owners but they sometimes talk of stability and then discover that being stable is simply a case of being stable at the bottom of the table.

"Though we have a change, the long-term vision of the club remains and much good work has already been done and will continue," Fernandes said on Friday, reducing Hughes to the words "a change".

They have a new man alright, a man who understands the need for plot and structure in football. Harry Redknapp has been here before. Harry might be typecast but he knows the importance of a good story.

dfanning@independent.ie

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