| The Beckhams are already preparing the ground for the time when David will no longer be kicking a ball around
Manchester United agreed to sell David Beckham Tuesday to a man who has no authority to buy him. Joan Laporta may be the president of Barcelona by Sunday but he’s not there yet. What does that tell you' It says that a willingness to let the England captain go abroad at the right price has turned into an eagerness to bundle him through the door. At Old Trafford they want the great distracting dance to end.
Last week a reliable source confided that a “mindset” to sell had developed throughout Europe’s wealthiest club. Once the United directors decided to start planning for life without football’s most heavily marketed footballer then it was easy to see the logic of getting the money in the bank. Along comes a presidential candidate who is trailing his main rival in the polls by 29 per cent and bingo, a deal is struck — without Beckham’s approval and without Senõr Laporta actually having the mandate to commit to such an expensive arrangement.
Look again at the United statement. It talks of “Mr Laporta [maybe] being elected president on Sunday June 15” and concludes: “In the event that all of the conditions are fulfilled then the offer would be acceptable.” This is love gone cold. So cold that you need an ice pick to crack the frozen pond of the club’s emotions.
Selling an England skipper while he’s on holiday is like driving your tanks to the Kremlin while the leader is off fishing at his dacha.
The statement was political in every sense. It assists Laporta in a spectacular piece of electioneering that has narrowed the deficit with his main rival, Lluis Bassat, to a precarious three per cent. What can the pre-race favourite do to strike back' Promise the electors a cure for death, or free Rioja for life' It goes without saying that helping one Catalonian megalomaniac to beat another in an internal election was not the motivation.
The purpose was to regain control of squad rebuilding: to seize the £25 million-plus transfer fee and escape the daily nag of denial and counter-denial, of Italian and Spanish mogul tennis played out in the press.
The Beckham transfer saga has become so convoluted that the Los Angeles Times became required reading this week for United fans. It was on the west coast of America that he tried to clarify his intentions. In the old days United supporters could get by with the Manchester Evening News.
My reading of it is that the Beckhams are already preparing the ground for when David is no longer kicking a ball around.
The attempt to conquer the American celebrity market speaks of pre-planning for a time when music and fashion and merchandising will absorb his energies.
He’s 28 now, which is about the right time for him to be testing himself outside the frenzy of the English Premiership. A 13-year love affair ended the moment the United directors embraced the previously unthinkable. There is surely no way back from a transfer being agreed while the subject of those negotiations was on the other side of the Atlantic. Let nobody question, though, the depth of the original amour. Beckham’s father, Ted, is about the only one who has refused to contemplate a career for his son away from the metropolis of Manchester. That’s because Ted Beckham observed the formation of the bond in childhood and assumed that such connections never broke.
Before the red light of the two-year countdown on Beckham’s existing contract started flashing, it was assumed that he would leave Old Trafford only with Sir Bobby Charlton and his fellow directors wrapped around his legs imploring him to stay. In truth no player is immune to the process.
A fantastically elaborate game has been played these last few months — and it will be a relief when it is over. It started in earnest when Beckham went out of his way to parade the facial cut he sustained from a boot kicked across the United dressing-room by his angry manager. However loyal he has sounded in public, you can take it on good authority that Ferguson has become exasperated by the expansion of the Beckham celebrity circus. If this was Westminster, Beckham would probably be accused of being “semi-detached”.
Ruthlessness is part of the make-up of great sporting organisations. It has to be. Long before a quote appeared from one of Beckham’s “friends” alleging that he was being “treated like a piece of meat” by his employers, it was obvious that neither side could go on satisfying our voracious appetite for speculation indefinitely. The Beckham question is destabilising United’s purchasing strategy and probably unsettling the existing squad. The sad part is that notice had to be served on a great partnership by way of a deal with a man who has no authority to strike one and a subsequent, brutal press release.
But sometimes relationships end this way. Any bitterness on Beckham’s side will dissolve. United are obeying their instincts. For them, self-preservation is a duty. They have to protect the club. The last line is that Beckham has played his part in the accumulation of eight Premiership titles in 11 seasons. That demands a show of thanks.