| Alex Ferguson (seen here overseeing his players during training on Saturday ahead of Manchester United’s friendly versus Barcelona in Philadelphia) has once again emerged the strategist supreme
From coast to coast, from Hollywood to Broadway, Manchester United have put on such a vibrant Hamlet as to make you wonder why Shakespeare ever bothered with the Prince. Alas, poor David; they knew Beckham well, of course. But most of the travelling fans I met during the New York sojourn that culminated in a splendid exhibition against Juventus felt the England captain was not being missed at all.
As for Sir Alex Ferguson, he could hardly bring himself to utter the England captain’s name and it was left to his notional boss, Peter Kenyon, to try to clear the confusion that lingers in the wake of Beckham’s transfer to Real Madrid — by insisting that the player had, in effect, forced United to move him out.
Kenyon is a refreshing sort, a businessman with an authentic sense of humour who, upon being asked who would kick Ronaldinho when United complete their US tour by taking on Barcelona in Philadelphia, grinned: “There’s a sweep going on.” The United chief executive addressed both the club’s failure to sign the Brazilian, on whom they vainly strove to splash the Beckham cash, and Beckham himself, the parting of the ways being ascribed to “football and business”.
Football in the sense that United wanted to extend his contract. Business in that, when it became apparent he was not ready to negotiate, they decided “to capitalise on that and reinvest in the team”.
So, if he had been willing to extend, would he be at the club now' “Yes. But, and I don’t want to draw this out. It did take us 18 months to secure his last contract, so there was probably a thought process that, at some stage, he’d want to ply his trade elsewhere.”
After, perhaps, letting his contract run down so his value dropped' “That was never going to happen. We would have been remiss if we allowed it.” Did Kenyon now wish him well' “Absolutely. His contribution to us was as good as anybody’s and we hope he will be successful.”
And thus the anguished words of Ted Beckham in early June — two months after United approached his son — were made to sound poignantly hollow. “David doesn’t deserve this,” said Ted, a lifelong United fan. “He is absolutely gutted. He is being forced out. Obviously loyalty doesn’t mean a thing in football. It’s a ruthless, ruthless game.”
Equally obviously, these sentiments cannot be squared with the club’s account of events. There is a feeling at Old Trafford that father and son are no longer quite as close as when David’s career was developing. It may be accurate. It may not. The game is not just ruthless any more but increasingly impenetrable; the fans are left to believe what they choose and, while United display the form that has delighted the domestic and tourist audiences alike on this tour, they have nothing to fear.
“One player has gone,” Ferguson said in a rare allusion to Beckham’s relevance to the midfield, “and we’ve brought in two (Eric Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson)”. As if placing Djemba-Djemba and Beckham on the scales of footballing significance would produce equilibrium. The idea of Beckham as something a bit special, plausible, I should have thought, unless I was dreaming that the nation anxiously awaited daily bulletins on his metatarsal in the weeks leading to the World Cup.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the right-sided player to end all right-sided players. Ruud van Nistelrooy is the new Prince of Old Trafford, capable of destroying any defence in 45 minutes. Yes, there may be something of the dodgy dossier about it. But still Ferguson has emerged, for the umpteenth time, as the strategist supreme.