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BEND IT LIKE NO OTHER

David Beckham richly deserves the title of the metrosexual man. Leafing through DAVID BECKHAM (Headline, £25) — a book that describes the highs and lows of the 20-year-long career of this English footballer in his “own words and pictures” — one cannot miss the fastidiousness that has gone into selecting the illustrations. Here is a man who certainly loves what the mirror throws back at him. In many of the photographs, Beckham appears at his preening best: not a strand of hair is out of place even in the heat of sporting battle, his good looks amplified with the help of cutting edge production technology. But in a way these photographs are meant to please the consumers of Beckham’s public image. The tone of the text — Matthew Syed of The Times assisted Beckham to put his thoughts on page — is far more personal. There are numerous passages that record his turmoil and pain brought about not only by defeat but also public scorn. These anecdotes are lucid reflections on the ugly aspects of modern sporting culture.

The book is a truncated register of Beckham’s long career. He mainly concentrates on his stints with top clubs — Manchester United, Real Madrid, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain — as well as on his years with the national side. There is not a dull moment as the text is enlivened by some of the most dramatic moments witnessed in the history of the game. Beckham recounts the horror of being sent-off during a match against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. For his momentary indiscretion, Beckham found himself being projected as a national villain. He was booed in nearly every outing thereafter, vilified in the press (one publication turned his face into a dartboard) and his family members were subjected to abusive behaviour. The manner in which Beckham earned his redemption is no less thrilling: a late equalizer against Greece in a crucial qualifier was followed by him scoring against his nemesis — the Argentines — in the 2002 World Cup.

Given Beckham’s penchant for tears— even good tidings, such as the news of being spotted by a Man U scout, make Becks cry — it is surprising that the same man was capable of phoenix-like resurrections. But this was only because Beckham’s indomitable spirit had been forged early in his life. His parents inculcated in him a ferocious work ethic. (Young Beckham had been prohibited from carrying a football into the house. Undaunted, he ended up kicking around the Care Bears in his sister’s bedroom!) But the support and encouragement that he received from the players and the management during his years at Manchester United truly helped him acquire nerves of steel. One incident that Beckham mentions in the book stands out as a perfect example of the kind of protective ownership that Man U had bestowed upon him. In the 2002 World Cup, as Beckham readied himself to take the spot-kick against Argentina, Diego Simeone, the man who had been instrumental in that infamous send-off four years earlier, started walking menacingly towards Beckham to unnerve the player. As Simeone got within five yards, Beckham realized that he no longer stood alone. He had been joined by two of his club mates, who, in an act of spontaneous camaraderie, wanted to remind the Argentine that he would not succeed in his mischievous design. It is a pity that Indian football clubs have not shown an inclination to emulate Man U’s policy of investing in talented youngsters and then standing by them in their hour of need.

The book is not for those interested in the sociology of English football — how it transcended rigid class lines to emerge as a cultural melting pot. Those itching for juicy tidbits about Beckham’s private life would also be disappointed.

The two photographs reproduced here are emblematic of the two sides of Beckham’s persona. On the left, is Brand Beckham. On the right is the man in flesh and blood.