The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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United set strong example

So David Beckham is off to Real Madrid, to add to an enviable constellation of stars. Such an assemblage of the worldís most special players hasnít been seen in recent times and I doubt whether such a sterling collection existed ever. Come to think of it ó Zidane, Ronaldo, Raul, Figo, Roberto Carlos and Beckham in the same team. How better a top half can the World XI have!

Itís been extraordinary turn of events ó Beckhamís decision to leave the club he was almost synonymous with, Alex Ferguson severing ties with one of his most precious possessions and the club accepting the coachís surprising demand. But, to see how the England captain adjusts in a galaxy of stars will be intriguing.

Several aspects will be worth watching. How the Real coach uses Beckham, whether at the expense of Figo or not. How Beckham reacts if asked to leave his favoured position of right half. How he copes if ordered to shoulder some defensive responsibility and overall, whether he becomes the first England footballer to make a real mark beyond English shores.

Beckham, the player, is good enough to suit the requirements expected from a professional at the highest level. He will deliver. But the point to ponder here is whether he would able to perform according to the more-than-superstar billing accorded to him thus far. He will remain a star forever no doubt, but will he be able to supersede that'

Only time will tell how the Real episode unfolds, but I, for one, shall keep fingers crossed. I am a bit sceptical because Realís star-hunt is bound to push up the bar of expectations. They have to win everything to keep sponsors, fans and followers satisfied. For them, the sky has become the limit. Not many dare to do that. Once they have, lets see how they approach the Herculean.

What is it about Beckham that drives everyone crazy, especially the richest and most successful clubs in the world' He has a remarkably accurate right-footer. His consistency with free-kick conversion is best among peers and on many occasions, he has done it under intense pressure.

Beckhamís crosses from the right can be menacing for any defence and goalkepeer. He can make it dip, curl and float with telling accuracy. He has got tremendous control over swing and can probably hit every point between the two posts from a specific spot, with negligible change in stance, run-up and posture of delivery. Everybody knows he will make it curl off the in-step or the inner half of in-step. Yet, Beckham brings so much variety in what seems a fairly predictable motion.

Beckham, a player of spotless behaviour on the field after the 1998 World Cup expulsion against Argentina, is also an able leader. He leads by example and has rarely been seen retaliating even after being hacked down. But still, there are limitations.

Though a midfielder, his defensive skills are not half as sound and he is only a fraction of the force he is on the right when shifted inside or moved towards the left. Though he screens the ball with admirable proficiency, he needs space in front to function at his best and prefers room rather than standing out while in a crowd. In short, he is not as versatile as some of his peers like Zidane or Veron.

So will Manchester United miss him, or has Ferguson made a mistake by letting him go' It has been reported that the two were not on the best of terms, for whatever reason. Many say that this rift led to the separation which could not be imagined till very recently. I think itís been a remarkably bold decision on part of Manchester United.

The club deserves praise for showing faith in the judgement of its hugely successful coach rather than standing by its talismanic player. Individuals donít come before the interest of a group and have to be done away with when they start getting larger than the institution they are part of. In the days of blind hero worship, Manchester United have set a valuable example which others will find difficult to match.

The vastly experienced coach knows that Beckhamís absence can be filled by the likes of Ryan Giggs, Veron and Paul Scholes with a phenomenally consistent striker in Ruud van Nistelrooy. United have won many tough matches without Beckham and the coach has done the right thing if he thought that ego clash was threatening to affect the larger interest.

As for Real, all the glitter may just turn too hot to handle. With so many superstars, they will be expected to win everything under the sun. Apart from that, the coach faces a difficult question. How and where to fit in Beckham. If he is allowed to play in his favourite position on the right side of midfield, Figo loses the spot he likes most. And in all probability, Figo will be sacrificed since he is no more the force he used to be in his Barcelona days.

For Real, the bigger problem lies elsewhere. Their strength up front is unrivalled, but the defence, as seen in the Champions League and in a few Spanish league encounters, is far from reliable. Their investment in this area is pitifully low as compared to what they spend on hiring attacking midfielders and strikers. Given their resources, Real are bound to score. But to win matches, they will have to ensure that they defend manfully as well.

Back to Beckham. After years, an English footballer of superstar stature has dared to venture out of England shores. No English player, not even Garry Lineker and Paul Gascoigne, could protect their larger-than-life image in other countries. If Beckham does, his deed will be as historic as his move to Spain. But for now, letís keep fingers crossed.

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