by Elmore Black

David Beckham is the poster boy for a multitude of global brands, one of the richest men in sport, has played in the three biggest leagues in the world, he’s friends with film stars and he married a Spice Girl. Sometimes it’s nice to imagine being in David Beckham’s shoes.

Yet think back to 15th August 1998. You are standing over a free kick at Old Trafford in the last minute of a match and your side is 2-1 down to Leicester City in the first game of the season. Over the past two months you have turned 23 and due to something you did a few weeks before nearly everyone in the country seems to hate you and you are considered a traitor. 4000 traveling fans have been mocking you for ninety minutes and even some of your home supporters seem to enjoy it.  You know this is just the tip of the iceberg and it’s going to be like this for the rest of the season. An effigy of you has been hung outside a London pub, The Times recently described you as a “spoilt brat” and the Daily Mirror has run the headline “10 HEROIC LIONS, ONE STUPID BOY” along with a printed dart board with your face in the middle. What would you do? This

“Where did it all go wrong?” someone famously asked George Best, but in the case of David Beckham the question really is “How did it all go right?” Beckham has been written off so many times (after Sir Alex Ferguson kicked a football boot in his face, for example) but perhaps the one that sums him up best was his last season at Real Madrid, a time when it looked like he wouldn’t even be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley.

Beckham was running into the final year of his contract and Real Madrid announced that they would not be renewing his deal. It was January and having been on the subs bench for most of the season already, not a club in Europe seemed to want him and his place in the England side was under question as well. Beckham announced that he was taking up a five-year contract with L.A. Galaxy and, as a result, his then manager Fabio Capello  announced that he  would never play for the club again and would only be allowed to train with the first team. Worse still, the owner of the club, Ramón Calderón,  told the press that Beckham  was “going to Hollywood to be a film star” and that “the technical team were right not to extend his contract, which has been proved by the fact that no other technical staff in the world wanted him except Los Angeles.”

Beckham’s response? With his own club publicly mocking him (aside from his team mates who steadfastly stood by him) Beckham didn’t say a word, in fact he stuck his head down and trained so hard that within a month he had forced his way back into the team. Capello, backtracking on his earlier statement, recalled Beckham for a game against Real Sociedad in February and with his team 1-0 down what did he do? This, before going on to set-up the winner in a 2-1 victory. Incredibly it wasn’t long before Real Madrid were trying to untie Beckham’s deal with L.A. Galaxy and offer him a new contract.

Beckham went on to play the leading role in a Roy of the Rovers style championship run-in as Real Madrid somehow overturned a points deficit on Barcelona to win the title in their final game of the season with a 3-1 victory against Mallorca. The image I can remember most vividly from that game was when Capello was being given the victory bumps by the players and 80,000 fans were not applauding him, but saluting Beckham who was walking off the Bernabeu on his own, head held high, to applause from all four sides of the ground. Beckham did his talking on this pitch and with the title won enough was said – he emotionally applauded the crowd in return and exited stage left.

Onto the stage at L.A. Galaxy he walked and what did he do in his first game? This. Then a couple of weeks ago, five years on and having completed the full term of his contract, exactly as he said he would do, and after changing the face of American soccer, like everyone questioned he could do, Beckham played his final game for the Galaxy, winning the MLS Cup for a second successive year, thus ensuring Beckham’s final games for Manchester United, Real Madrid and L.A. Galaxy all resulted in titles. Talk about Hollywood.

If ever there was a player in the modern era who could have been more affected and negatively influenced by the trappings of football’s fame and fortune it’s Beckham and yet, on the contrary, with previously unimaginable levels of stardom he has, on the whole, acted more professionally and more responsibly than just about any other player of his generation save perhaps his former teammate Paul Scholes. Beckham is a megastar. He has spent his entire professional life in the  eye of the public’s storm and at every  stage of his career people have questioned his ability, his motives,  and his relationships, ridiculing him and expecting him to fail.  Yet on each occasion, he has proved each and every one of us wrong.

A few years on from Madrid, rather fittingly, Fabio Capello – as England manager – gave Beckham the last of his record breaking 115 England caps. He’s won six Premier League titles, two F.A. Cups, he has a Champion’s League winners medal, a Spanish league title, two MLS Cups, he’s an OBE, an Olympic icon and the proud owner of a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award. Now, at the age of 37, clubs from all around Europe are queuing up to sign him for the final chapter of his career. On top of all of this you get the impression that he is a fantastic father and that he still does the washing-up when he has tea round his nan’s house. Beckham is a true role model for the modern footballer and indeed, anyone wanting to get the very best out of themselves. I don’t mind admitting that I for one have full-on, rose-tinted man love for him.

Now, I was thinking about Beckham when I read the paper today. I wondered what he would make of the story that Mario Balotelli is taking his own club, Manchester City, to a Premier League tribunal over their decision to fine him two weeks wages for his poor disciplinary record last season. “We try and avoid situations like this” said PFA Chief Executive Gordon Taylor “but the player and the club have not been able to resolve this situation.”

Balotelli played, in all, 31 competitive games for City in 2011/12 and managed to rack up nine yellow cards and three red cards. This meant he was unavailable for selection for 11 domestic and European games. I think it’s fair to describe this record as poor and given that Ballotelli earns £24m a year, a two-week fine seems fairly reasonable to me. Given the lengths that clubs go to to include every last detail in contracts, I would be staggered if such a fine wasn’t clearly written into Balotelli’s contract, so this is clearly something he is doing as a  loss leader or on principal. After being fined and then losing an internal tribunal, Balotelli appears to be applying the same thought process and good judgement that has made him such a likable fella.

Why always me being photographed with known Italian mafia mobsters? Why always me being filmed coming out of nightclubs hours before a game? Why always me letting off fireworks and setting my house on fire? Why alway me turning up at an Italian  women’s prison to ‘have a look around?’ Why always me throwing a dart at a youth team player? Whatever you think as to the benefits of fining footballers (externally it’s a joke) fines are written into contracts and people sign them. The sensible option is to take your medicine and in the case of Balotelli, given the previous, take your medicine as soon as you can. Given the sum, I personally think this could be more to do with the fact that he cannot get in the team – this is his reaction to being dropped.

After wrapping his car around a central reservation in Manchester, Balotelli was questioned by police and found to have £5000 in cash on him. When asked why he replied, “because I am rich.” In comparison to Beckham, Balotelli is poor in every sense of the word. As Capello once said of Beckham, “sometimes you are wrong about people and you have to admit your mistake.”

Over to you Mario.

Check out Elmore’s blog about the increasingly less beautiful game here

Additional text – Very interesting. This was the fourth time I’ve ever written anything about football and this piece did start life as a tribute to DB and maybe would have been better as such. I added the Balotelli angle after waking up the next day and reading the paper. Whilst it was Balotelli, I did think that any player taking his own club to an external tribunal was unusual and worthy of comment. Thanks for your feedback.