4 January ~ What could brighten up the bleak mid-winter more than the prospect of David Beckham’s return to the Premier League for a couple of months to top up the English public’s brand awareness of the highly capped midfielder. And only a cynic would doubt his claim, made via the fount of down-home philosophy that is the tongue of Harry Redknapp, that he wants to come to Tottenham Hotspur because they play good football. Choosing Tottenham is nothing, repeat nothing, to do with the fact that Spurs play his former teams Manchester United and AC Milan in the coming weeks, which in turn will mean the swooning media ensure that the games are All About David.
It’s quite a wonder that any top-flight club can be bothered with media-magnetic Beckham at the injury-prone age of 35. He was never the quickest even in his prime, and although few would question his work-rate, his crossing or his doctorate in dead-ball skills, he can not add a whole lot to a team that is playing its best football for several decades, at the highest level.
Redknapp at the weekend muttered something about Beckham being a good example to the young lads at training, and how he would have been useful coming on as a sub late against Fulham to help keep possession. Is there really no player on Tottenham’s books who can play that role? And is there no one in the club to help young players at training to understand the importance of professionalism? It’s not like this is the 1970s when they watched the senior pros stagger in late with a hangover every morning.
Four years ago, when Beckham’s move to the LA Galaxy was announced, there was a chorus of derision in the UK media about how he was wasting his talent in a Mickey Mouse league. So just how much has David dominated Major League Soccer? Well, he’s been king of the headlines, and he’s a long, long way ahead of all the other players when it comes to his annual base salary of $6.5 million (£4.2m). On the field, though, he’s been not much better or worse than anyone else. In four seasons he’s played 55 league games (he’s managed just 22 appearances over the past two), thanks to injuries, jaunts to the England bench and previous loan deals at AC Milan. He’s scored nine goals, and tallied 19 assists – not rubbish, but nowhere close to outstanding.
A cruel analyst might posit that by failing to set the league alight, Beckham is the model MLS player. LA came close to winning the title in 2009, losing the MLS Cup final on penalties to Salt Lake, but their good run that year preceded Beckham’s return from Serie A. This year he hardly played in MLS, thanks to the serious injury he picked up in spring in Italy. Instead of “getting fit” with Tottenham under the watch of a surely sceptical Fabio Capello, Beckham might consider that, for all the cash he’s banked, he owes MLS and his primary team a full season, and that he should be turning up for the pre-season without a pair of crutches under his armpits.
The midfielder’s performances in the US suggest that the league was either much better than the English media supposed, and that most of the players are of a quality that allows them to compete with a top England international. Or that Beckham’s play has slumped to the point where he’s just another average pro in a mediocre set-up. If it’s the former, expect MLS to be selling its TV rights around the world for billions of dollars sometime soon. If it’s the latter, then ask yourself what earthly use David Beckham could be for in-form Tottenham Hotspur over the winter months. It would, however, mean a ton of coverage for Harry, David and all their hangers-on and associated products. Ian Plenderleith