It is a small piece of received wisdom that when a major sporting event ends, there is a small power surge as millions of homes put the kettle on in order to make a cup of tea. When David Beckham pulled up during Milan’s match against Chievo yesterday, the same phenomenon may well have taken place as a billion computers were powered up in order to discuss an injury that seems likely to end Beckham’s career, at least at international level. The operation, which was carried out today in Finland, is believed to have been successful, though, but this has not affected the face that many of the words written on the subject today have taken on the timbre of obituary pieces for his career.
The press interest in Beckham is hardly surprising, and the premature end of any chance of him playing for England in South Africa pricks two simultaneous and contradictory bubbles in the eyes of the fourth estate. On the one hand, there is the angle of prurience. Beckham has long been considered the property of the media and to an extent lives his life in public. He will be likely to travel to South Africa regardless of whether he is playing in some sort of ambassadorial for the FA’s increasingly ill-starred 2018 World Cup bid, and he will still be one of the biggest shows in town, but the exhortations of disappointment in the press this morning may have as much to do with the fact that at least one part of the circus will not be in the same place as the rest of it.
The second bubble is a slightly more curious one, and it is something that isn’t commented upon to the same extent. It is the Beckham Fairytale Phenomenon. For the entire duration of David Beckham’s career, there has been a small element of a fairy tale about. After his over-egged fall from grace at France in 1998 following his sending off against Argentina he had four years to find redemption for England, and he did exactly this four years later when he scored that penalty against the same opposition. He didn’t manage the swansong that they had expected four years ago, so the words “… and they all live happily ever after” were postponed by a further four years.
If this morning’s stories carried a slightly dislocated air about them, though, it was because they didn’t follow the normal narrative of the football story. When Beckham was sent off in St Etienne in 1998, it followed the natural narrative of the tabloid press, the simplistic, black and white world of right and wrong that they inhabit. This sort of copy and paste story-writing exists to this day, and it is particularly prevalent when it comes to stories of injuries, when it is usual to be able to take one person and pin the blame for something specific and tangible upon them. Beckham’s injury, however, hasn’t followed that particular plot line. It was an accident. One of those things. There is no-one to blame for it. This, it has to be said, has left some newspapers flailing for an angle. The Sun went for the “silver lining” angle, with Fabio Capello saying that he hopes that Beckham will be fit for the Euro 2012, while The Guardian’s Rob Smyth was somewhat harsher, stating that press coverage of the story “some significant questions as to what has become of journalism, and indeed a country that laps up such news”.
The most intriguing aspect of the David Beckham Fairytale, however, is whether the coda to this story will – or even can – be put back by a few more months, or whether the words “The End” have now appeared from out of nowhere, seemingly in the middle of a sentence. Much as we all like them, happy endings are infrequent in football, in no small part because the winners in any football tournament are always massively outnumbered by the losers. It may displease his American employers, LA Galaxy (after all, Beckham was still only on loan to Milan from Galaxy), but Beckham may yet decide that this is the time to knock all of this on the head. After all, he has enough money to retire on.
The angle of England’s World Cup chances is being worded very carefully in today’s papers, and there is a reason for this. The chances of England winning the World Cup this summer are slim and, even if this were to happen, the chances of David Beckham playing any significant role in this would have been likely to be slimmer still. “Injured Fringe Player Will Miss World Cup”, however, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the tears that are being shed in Beckham’s name this morning, though. Once again, it’s all about selling papers and making headlines, and the irony is that the one person that we will be unlikely to hear much from on the subject will be Beckham himself.
Such an interview would be unlikely to give very much away about the truth of his emotions. As we touched upon last week, Beckham, in the style of so many modern “celebrities”, remains something of a blank page. Whether deliberately or by accident, he is all things to all people and it seems unlikely that this state of affairs will change at any time in the near future. For now, though, it doesn’t seem like it should be too much effort – and the question of whether he should be in the squad or not is a completely seperate one – to leave him be with what must surely be the crushing disappointment of knowing that his final chance of winning the World Cup has gone. On a human level, this in itself is sad and unfortunate, but this shouldn’t detract from the bare fact that his presence or otherwise is unlikely to be the tipping point between England winning the World Cup and not winning the World Cup. Wayne Rooney, on the other hand… now, that might just be a different matter.