The Manchester United legend discusses the upcoming U.S. tour, the signing of Schweinsteiger by the Chicago Fire and whether or not Pogba will live up to the hype.
Should and team succumb to a dramatic cup final defeat and be forced to watch on as a precious trophy slips tragically through their fingers, in domestic competition to a common rival at least, some small fragment of solace can be cherished in knowing there will likely come a chance for redemption some day on the next occasion the two teams meet, be it weeks, months, or even years down the line.
But when two clubs hailing from opposing nations compete for a prize of immeasurable magnitude and one finds themselves on the wrong side of history, just as Milan did in 2005, when opponents Liverpool rose seemingly from the grave to claw back a three-goal deficit and claim the Champions League trophy against all expectation, there is no such safety jacket with which to cling onto in order to stay afloat in the swirling waters of regret. The only partial antidote to be prescribed is patience and, even then, waiting does little to numb the pain.
Fortunately for the walls of all tally-making Milanesi, spared after just two short seasons in purgatory, their club’s name was called again as Carlo Ancelotti’s men reached the Champions League showpiece in 2007, destined to conclude another memorable European adventure in the most delectable fashion, with revenge over the very team that had bested them in their last final.
Drawn into a so-called ‘easy’ Group H, after having surpassed Red Star Belgrade in the qualification round, Milan were lined up alongside French side Lille, Belgian champions Anderlecht, and Greek outfit AEK. Consequently it was with few doubts that Milan were expected to ensure their safe passage into the Champions League knockout phase.
Three wins and a draw from their first four fixtures looked to prove early suspicions correct but, satiated by the clear daylight between them and their group stage rivals, Milan saw fit to ease off the gas, to conserve their collective powers for the following round, and in the process fell to consecutive losses away in Athens and at home to their French opponents. Fortunately Milan’s points advantage proved insurmountable and the Italians proceeded to top the group despite the late hiccup.
Onto the next leg of their long-distance race to the Greek capital, as winners of Group H, Milan were tasked with hurdling the runners-up of Group F. Awaiting Milan, having finished beneath Manchester United but above Benfica and Copenhagen, was the cream of the Scottish crop, Celtic.
In Glasgow, despite ample opportunities for both sides, neither team could breach the other’s defence and the game ended 0-0. In Milan a fortnight later, that same story was given a second rendition, this time with the woodwork and Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc’s fingertips playing starring roles, and the tie was forced beyond 180 minutes into extra time. There Milan’s main man answered his team’s desperate call for inspiration.
Three minutes beyond the restart, Kaká received a pass from teammate Massimo Ambrosini just a few paces inside his own half. Controlling the ball on the turn and shrugging off a despairing challenge from Neil Lennon on the halfway line, he surged forward.
As Kaká bore down on the penalty area, Celtic centre-half Stephen McManus assessed his surroundings and back-peddled rapidly in the hope of shielding his goal from the marauding Brazilian. But his hopes quickly vanished as Kaká’s pace surged into top gear and he breezed beyond McManus before delicately slipping the ball beyond his attempted block and between the open legs of the beaten Boruc. The solitary goal was enough. On his back, Kaká carried the people of his adopted city into the quarter-finals.
The last eight demanded Milan defeat reigning German champions Bayern Munich but allowed them the privilege of hosting the first leg of the tie amidst the home comforts of the San Siro. Home advantage, though, would prove superfluous on the night.
From the unlikely source of Andrea Pirlo’s head, a nonchalant nod beyond the reach of the young Bayern goalkeeper Michael Rensing, Milan were given the lead late in the first half. The score stayed 1-0 until a little over 10 minutes remained, when the home team failed to clear a hopeful cross and Daniel van Buyten swept home a hard-fought equaliser.
Milan re-established their lead on 84 minutes thanks once more to Kaká, who coolly dispatched a penalty he himself had earned, but deep into stoppage time Van Buyten struck again with a back-post volley that left Milan goalkeeper Dida straddling his near post in anguish. Munich departed the San Siro with a confidence-boosting draw that gave them two away goals to treasure.
Eight days later, Ancelotti and his men touched down in Munich and set off in search of a win. Thanks to the scintillating combination of awareness, movement and technique that aided Seedorf in scoring Milan’s first goal and assisting Filippo Inzaghi for their second, Milan found what they were looking for. A semi-final showdown with Manchester United beckoned.
Scarcely six minutes beyond the referee’s starting whistle, the ball was being already plucked out of the Milan net by their aggravated goalie. Dida had jumped to block Ronaldo’s goalbound header but had conspired only to delay its breaching of his line as the ball was bundled into the goal by a collaboration of goalkeeper, attacker and defender upon its return from orbit.
One-nil down so early at Old Trafford, with the hosts looking hungry for more, Milan needed to respond quickly or risk being swept aside by their opponents. Thankfully for the visitors, their swashbuckling Brazilian also happened to be in devastating mood.
Just as the words “[Manchester United] mustn’t let [Milan] have a sight of goal” were spoken into the microphone of the knowing commentator, Kaká evidenced exactly why. Galloping between three defenders, he fired the ball low and hard into the far corner before Edwin van der Sar could even think to halt it.
In idiosyncratic celebration, the Milan maestro lifted his hands and pointed to the skies in pious thanks. The footballing gods, if none more noble, witnessed his dedication and 15 minutes later smiled upon him again.
Kaká chased a long pass forward and out-muscled Darren Fletcher to retain possession. Tailed by Gabriel Heinze, Kaká nodded the ball down to the turf only to then quickly flick it up again, over the Argentine defender’s head with the outside of his right boot. On the other side of Heinze, Kaká headed the ball once more, this time to steal in ahead of both Heinze and Patrice Evra, who were left to clatter into one another as the Brazilian strode into the penalty area. With his next touch, Kaká brushed the ball neatly beyond Van der Sar for a second time. One-nil to United had become 2-1 to Milan at Kaká’s humble behest.
But Kaká’s teammates couldn’t match his exploits and United battled back. Wayne Rooney forced his way through a crowded Milan penalty area to smuggle Paul Scholes’ neat flick into the net before completing his own brace, by smashing home a winner from the edge of the box, late into stoppage time.
Kaká’s tricks had been exposed, his magic bested, and Milan had it all to do again in Italy. With Chelsea and Liverpool contesting the other semi-final, anything less than a home win at the San Siro would ensure an all-English final in late May. The Italians were desperate to prevent the rewriting of Champions League history.
In Milan the two teams were made to wait just 11 minutes before learning of the next chapter’s opening scene. Kaká assumed the role of the protagonist yet again.
The ball was sent forward with purpose, from defence to attack in one fell swoop; a searching up-field knock aimed towards the run of = Seedorf, who had stolen a march on = Fletcher and was heading for the United area. Making the ball’s acquaintance just inside the line, Seedorf, with his back to goal and under increasing pressure, headed it back across the box in the hope of teeing up a teammate better equipped to test Van der Sar. The ball dropped to Kaká and before completing so much as its second bounce was sent skidding across the turf by the Brazilian’s left boot. Scarcely a second later it lay motionless, snug, in the far corner of the Dutch goalkeeper’s net. Advantage Milan.
The aggregate score read 2-2. As it stood, by virtue of away goals, Milan were through to the final. But they had little intention of spending the subsequent 80 minutes defending a one-goal lead.
As the half-hour mark approached, Milan’s provider turned goalscorer again, just as he had in Munich, as Seedorf breached the opponent’s backline. The ball was curled into the area by Pirlo only to be bucked away by the head of Nemanja Vidić. Far from extinguishing the danger, though, his attempted clearance became an inadvertent assist as Seedorf brought the ball under control, faked a shot to work an extra yard of space, bundled his way beyond a hopeful sliding tackle and between two United bodies, before thumping the ball into the very spot his teammate Kaká had made use of just minutes before. Milan’s advantage doubled.
If any still dared to doubt Milan’s ability to keep a firm grasp on their tickets to the final with the score at 2-0, when Alberto Gilardino’s finessed strike made it three with barely 10 minutes remaining, all Milanesi apprehensions were allayed in the very moment Mancunian dreams were destroyed.
Six days later, before a capacity Anfield crowd, Liverpool matched their opponents’ exploits from the preceding week in defeating Chelsea by a solitary goal, meaning extra-time and penalties would be required to part the Premier League rivals. On the night, Chelsea’s nerve deserted them and Liverpool triumphed in the shootout, confirming the conclusion many had crossed their fingers for. The unforgettable 2005 Champions League final would have its sequel.
No strangers to the occasion, the Athenians had played host to a Champions League final once before, in 1994, on the night Milan defeated Barcelona 4-0 to claim their fifth European Cup. As such, it appeared the omens may well have pointed in Milan’s favour.
Despite being drawn as the home team on the night, Milan chose not to don their famous red and black stripes but instead their lucky kit, their maglia fortunata; the all white strip. Though they had lost European Cup finals on two occasions while wearing it – most recently in their ill-fated loss of 2005 – they had been crowned European champions on five occasions while adorned in white, so it was decided they would wear it once again.
As German referee Herbert Fandel attempted to sound his whistle above the deafening roar that seemed to be lifting the Olympic Stadium from its foundations, the game was given life.
Having been absent from the 2005 final – forced to relinquish all influence and instead watch on from the sidelines as his team appeared to have all but encased the trophy in the Museo Mondo Milan only to give it away – this particular occasion meant more to Inzaghi than most. The look in his eyes as he watched the ball’s first journey across the pitch told you he would be the one to decide the game and he gifted Milan the game’s opening goal just before the first half’s conclusion.
When Xabi Alonso bundled Kaká over on the edge of his own penalty area, conceding a free-kick within shooting distance, the prospect appeared, to Liverpool, all the more perilous as it became clear either Pirlo or Seedorf would take it. Pirlo elected not to lob the wall, or bend it around its right side away from Pepe Reina’s corner of the goal, but instead to hit it towards the Spaniard. Before it could reach the Liverpool ‘keeper, though, it had cannoned off of Inzaghi’s chest and redirected into the unguarded centre of the goal.
The deflection had about it more than a hint of serendipity but, given the experience, prestige and aptitude of the striker responsible, there is good reason to believe it was entirely intentional. Pirlo may not have been aiming for Inzaghi’s chest when he struck the ball, but the forward’s movement was made with purpose. From the moment it connected with him the ball was destined for the net. Inzaghi had drawn first blood, and Milan led.
The game was without a second goal for almost 40 minutes more as both sides toiled without reward. Both ‘keepers were tested but neither goal was breached until eight minutes from time when the ball was played to Kaká in a world of space in the Milan midfield. He took two touches then appeared to be preparing an explosive effort from distance. But instead of unleashing a shot, the Brazilian fed a cunning pass through the lines, between defenders and into the path of the advancing Inzaghi.
The pass would prove an artful assist as Inzaghi beat a belated offside trap, took a single touch to steer Reina just a little wider of his goal, before dismissing the tight angle and prodding the ball underneath him into the far corner of the goal. If Inzaghi’s first goal had been auspicious, his second was immaculate.
The Italian hitman ran to the corner flag, turned to face his teammates scattered throughout the pitch, and fell to his knees. Kaká joined him on his knees and cupped his head in his hands, embracing each other all the while shouting. Together, it seemed, they had done it.
The strength of Milanesi hearts was tested once more when Dirk Kuyt nodded a Liverpool corner beyond the outstretched arm of Dida and into the Milan goal shortly before stoppage time. The Dutchman grabbed the ball from the net and sprinted back to his half, he and his team desperate to beat both Milan and the clock, but on this occasion there would be no twist, no collapse, no thrilling comeback. The final whistle sounded.
Kaká lifted his shirt to twirl it joyously above his head, revealing the vest he so often wore beneath his jersey. In bold black lettering it read: ‘I belong to Jesus’. Fans of Milan across the globe sighed, beholden to the Brazilian, in the delight of knowing that he too belonged to them. Without his 10 Champions League goals, this dream would have remained just that.
Stood triumphantly in the Guest of Honour’s box, UEFA President Michel Platini handed to Milan’s captain, Paolo Maldini, the immense trophy who in turn thrust it into the air. Number seven; better late than never.
After the heartbreak of two seasons before, when vast swathes of the footballing world had come together to laud Liverpool’s unfathomable comeback and toast the making of history, while Milan sat on the periphery of the memorable tale, awkward and sore, I Rossoneri had earned their redemption.
In the city of ruins, to that day still bearing the weight of their failure in Istanbul, Carlo Ancelotti’s men were able to pick up the pieces and together build a landmark equal in stature but unmatched in significance. From the rubble they had risen, and Milan were champions of Europe again
By Will Sharp
By Will Sharp
As innate incubators for narrative and drama against which the daily mundanities of life are invited to be forgotten about for two-hourly stretches, as stories are told, stars are born and dreams are achieved, the engrossing worlds of film and football are at times indistinguishable from one another.
On occasion the two even collide to, some may say, intriguing effect. The often reprehensible resulting debris is premiered at the expense of fans of both mediums, as football remains one spectacle that may never receive accurate portrayal on the big screen.
There is, however, one melding of film and football that is entirely unique and stands tall above all others. It is not a film about football, though. Instead it is a true footballing event that is so filmic in its context, so heavily rooted in the very nuances that make a typical Hollywood protagonist’s rise from the ashes so compelling, it is almost hard to believe it was not concocted at the whim of a director or script writer.
This is the story of David Beckham and the goal against Greece that redeemed his reputation, completing his Dusfresnian journey to freedom from a prison of his own unintentional design.
The two most indispensible acts in the narrative of David Beckham’s explosive England career took place 1,191 days apart, in stadiums separated by 1,012 kilometers, hinging upon two unforgettable events that together lasted barely 20 seconds.
The first: 30 June 1998, Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne, Argentina vs England. The score tied at 2-2, goals from Englishmen Alan Shearer and Michael Owen equaling those scored by Gabriel Batistuta and Javier Zanetti for Argentina, the second half was just a couple of minutes old.
David Beckham attempted to control a stray headed pass with his chest but was floored by a robust challenge from behind courtesy of Diego Simeone. The Argentine followed Beckham to the deck, landing gracelessly on top of him. Unappreciative of the so-called tackle, and the subsequent knee and hand pressed firmly into his back, the England number 7 foolishly directed a tame frustrated kick at the legs of Simeone.
The act failed to escape the accusing gaze of the referee. Simeone collapsed into a heap, arms thrust into the air, gesticulating despairingly in the direction of the official. Simeone and Beckham soon climbed back to their feet to be met by a flash of two cards. Yellow for Simeone. Red for Beckham. England were down to 10 men.
The score remained level at 2-2 until the end of extra time, after which penalties would decide the winner. Beckham watched on, relinquished of all power and influence, from his tenebrous vantage point in the tunnel beside the pitch.
Berti and Shearer stepped up first for their respective countries and both scored. Crespo and Ince followed and both missed. Verón, Merson, Gallardo, Owen and Ayala all then traded spot-kick duties beating their opposing ‘keeper from 12 yards, but Batty could not. Argentina won 4-3 on penalties and marched on to the quarter-finals as England were sent home. Beckham’s world began to crumble around him.
The second: 6 October 2001, Old Trafford, Manchester, England vs Greece. “Foul on Sheringham – free-kick. Will Beckham have another attempt at goal? We’ve played two-and-a-half minutes of stoppage time. England trail by two goals to one. Beckham could raise the roof here with a goal.” Commentator Gary Bloom set a scene of increasing desperation, his words not so much describing a possible eventuality as pleading for its immediate fruition. Then it happened.
“I don’t believe it!” Beckham’s last minute free-kick sailed majestically into the top corner and was followed by two distinct sounds: a lashing of net and a crash of jubilation from the Old Trafford crowd. Beckham wheeled away in celebration, arms out-stretched, smile ever broadening, bathed in complete and utter euphoria. “David Beckham scores the goal to take England all the way to the World Cup finals. Give that man a knighthood!”
A knighthood. Evidently Gary Bloom commanded little to no deciding say on the esteemed individuals included on the Queen’s annual honours list, but his mere mention of Beckham’s deserving of such a decoration presented a stark contrast from the abuse and vilification he had once received. Three years before, having contributed heavily to England’s early exit at the 1998 World Cup, across the country David Beckham’s name was mud. Then, in 2001, having scored the goal that would carry England triumphantly to the 2002 World Cup, he was the nation’s hero.
A fitting climax to the single most cinematic occasion English international football has ever seen; Beckham took his final steps along the road to redemption and his transformation from reviled to revered was complete. Relief washed over him, for it had been an arduous endeavour.
When a 23-year-old David Beckham stepped off the plane having arrived back in England after the 1998 World Cup, he fell into the arms of his father and wept, crying in a way he hadn’t done since he was a small child. There was to be no consoling him.
He may not have missed his team’s vital penalty in the shootout but he felt as though he was solely responsible for his country’s failings. He should have been on the pitch to prevent the game from ever going that far and he felt the need to atone for the error of his immaturity. Yet he rightly had no idea of the level of vitriolic abuse that awaited him on home soil.
The backlash began in the national tabloids. The Mirror ran the headline “10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy” while The Sun ran an image of a dartboard complete with David Beckham’s boyish face at the centre: “Still bitter? Take your fury out on our David Beckham dartboard,” encouraged its vile caption. The nation soon followed suit.
Effigies of Beckham were hanged and burned on the streets, death threats were hand-delivered through the door of his home encased in envelopes that held bullets, while journalists harassed members of the Beckham family intent on asking them if they understood the extent to which Beckham had betrayed them and the rest of their country. One mistake on a football pitch, one ill-judged flick of his foot, had led to this.
Beckham escaped this new hell for just a few weeks, holidaying with family and resting in anticipation for the upcoming domestic season, before returning to duties with Manchester United. He vowed to focus purely on his football. From the stands, for months, Beckham was the subject of endless shouts, chants and songs decrying his stupidity and calling for his head. In many ways, he was treated as though he were less than human.
As a result, the mental strength evidenced by the young footballer in dealing with the abuse was praised by almost everybody close to him during that time. His manager and teammates were astounded by his ability to simply continue playing.
In the immediate upcoming season, United experienced unparalleled success, winning an unprecedented treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League trophies. Beckham was integral to their almost every triumph, and was even recognised in being named runner-up in the European Footballer of the Year awards, finishing only behind O Fenômeno, Ronaldo, who had taken his adopted continent by storm with his displays at Internazionale.
But still Beckham had unfinished business. He had been able to take in the occasions when lifting his team’s trophies, to savour the moments and celebrate with his family and teammates. But, in fitting with his obsessive compulsive nature, Beckham couldn’t rest until he had made right his wrongs for his country.
Sadly, if the domestic season that directly followed Beckham’s 1998 heartbreak was smooth sailing for Manchester United, the subsequent years for England were the very opposite. England were in disarray.
Guided through an abysmal qualifying campaign for Euro 2000 by a combination of Glenn Hoddle then Kevin Keegan, England scraped through to the competition proper by the skin of their teeth.
In a qualification group consisting of the comparatively meagre powers of Sweden, Poland, Bulgaria and Luxembourg, with just three wins, four draws and a loss from their eight games, England finished second, nine points behind group winners Sweden. Despite a turgid 1-0 loss at home, they squeezed beyond rivals Scotland by winning their Euro qualification play-off tie 2-1 across two legs.
Yet at the tournament matters only worsened, and under the weight of expectation from their watching nation, England buckled. Their fragile nerve deserted them, their temperate abilities waned and, after a loss against Romania condemned them to a third-place finish in the group, their competition was over.
Keegan departed in October 2000 after a 1-0 loss to Germany in England’s opening qualifier for the 2002 World Cup, reportedly resigning while holed up in the Wembley toilets after hastily exiting the stage to the sound of a 75,000-strong chorus of boos, leaving Howard Wilkinson to take over for a single game before Peter Taylor was made caretaker manager.
He too was also entrusted with just a single match, a forgettable 1-0 defeat to Italy, but, during his short stay at the England helm, Taylor would make one particular decision that would help to impart a legacy destined to outlast his own. He chose to make Beckham captain of England. With the midfielder’s commitment certified and his confidence channeled, albeit by a temporary manager, Beckham was given the boost he needed.
Beyond Taylor’s briefest of tenures, the Football Association then took the unique and controversial decision to employ a non-native to marshall their nation’s football team, looking to Swedish coach Sven-Göran Eriksson for guidance.
When asked why he had chosen to allow David Beckham to remain as his team’s captain, the new manager’s response was far from emphatic, alluding to it simply being a matter of convenience: “I am sure this will work out well with David. [Beckham being captain] worked out against Italy,” he reassured. “Why should it not against Spain?” Beckham’s performance while wearing the armband against Spain permitted no such room for doubt.
Beckham retained the captaincy as England followed their opening day loss to Germany with a frail 0-0 draw away to Finland, though he also oversaw their winning of the reverse fixture at Anfield. Victories then came against Albania in Tirana and Greece in Athens before Eriksson’s men were required to do battle with Germany again, this time in Munich. In what remains quite possibly the Three Lions’ greatest foreign conquest of the 21st century, England defeated Germany 5-1 at the Olympiastadion.
After seeing off Albania at St James’ Park, just one fixture remained. England would face Greece at Old Trafford with the chance to secure top spot in Group Nine and a guaranteed place at the World Cup.
What followed from Beckham could rightly be described as the most complete performance from an England captain for almost half a century. For portions of the encounter, such was his phenomenal endeavour and the consequential gulf to that of his compatriots, it seemed as though Beckham was the only Englishman giving his all in his country’s final group game.
An invaluable asset from far more than simply set-piece situations, Beckham remained a constant thorn in the side of the Greeks for the duration of the match and it was from a free-kick entirely of his own making that England equalised after Angelos Charisteas had given Greece a shock first-half lead.
Receiving the ball from a long Nigel Martyn throw, camped inside his own half, Beckham brought the ball under his control then immediately galloped down the left wing. He advanced with purpose, using his shoulder to fend off one defender’s challenge before cutting back, retreating in the hope of finding space to cross, and shouldering away another. Beckham cut back again, dragging the ball behind him and spinning away from the second defender, before throwing a feint to weave inside, only to be floored illegally. “Almost a personal crusade from the captain here,” noted commentator Martin Tyler. Naturally Beckham volunteered to take the free-kick.
Whipped devilishly, deep into the box, Beckham’s cross was met by the head of Teddy Sheringham with his first touch of the game, having just entered the fray beyond the hour mark, as his flick looped the ball high over the stranded Greece goalkeeper and into the net.
England were level but their parity would last mere moments. Less than a minute after Sheringham’s strike, the ball was cushioned by Greek feet in the area again, as England’s shoddy defence failed to clear another hopeful punt into their territory, and Demis Nikolaidis obliged with a goalward prod beyond Martyn to regain the underdogs’ lead. England had it all to do again.
The score remained at 2-1 until late into stoppage time when Beckham was handed one final opportunity from a free-kick at the expense of Kostas Konstantinidis who was adjudged to have imposed himself on Sheringham unfairly.
“One thing you can be sure of, there won’t be many chances coming along after this,” Andy Gray remarked, fully aware of just how little time was left for England. As Beckham maintained his trademark stance, some 10 yards behind the ball and slightly left of centre, Martin Tyler teased a flash of prophetic inspiration. “With players like David Beckham,” he began, “you do feel there are certain moments of destiny.” Beckham’s very next act ensured his destiny was made to his own detailed specifications.
It was arguably the most cinematic moment in the history of the England national team; the player most in need of redemption, the captain, with the final meaningful kick of the game from his trademark free-kick, scoring the goal when his country needed it most.
The event’s undeniable film-like quality, much like a meticulous auteur’s dictating of every minute element of their masterpiece, owes thanks to another small detail which helped to further embed its narrative. That detail was, remarkably, David Beckham’s hair. Though it seems odd to dwell on such a seeming meniality, Beckham’s look enforced his transformation.
Far from the silly young boy he once was, prone to impudent acts like the one in France, Beckham, having shorn off his shapely curtains in favour of a far sterner almost menacing cut, looked like a changed man and the player’s fight on the field coincided with his new image.
Should the tale have been born from fiction with the camera aimed at Beckham in the lead up to the game, you can almost picture him in front of the mirror, shaving his head, symbolising the seismic divergence of his character.
It must be said that the necessity of Beckham’s free-kick, for the sole good of England’s on-field aspirations, has through its repeated retellings over subsequent years morphed in nature like a Chinese whisper and taken on a greater importance than perhaps it had at the time. The fact remains, if Beckham’s free kick had found Row Z as opposed to the top corner of the net, leaving his countrymen to succumb to a 2-1 loss, a place in the World Cup could still have awaited England, simply as a reward for producing a two-legged victory against Ukraine.
Yet the off-field importance of Beckham’s free-kick, in all its inimitable context, remains an altogether different proposal which cannot be oversold.
With one mindless swoop of his right foot, aimed in the direction of Diego Simeone before the eyes of the watching world in 1998, Beckham inadvertently broke the hearts of his nation and incurred a country’s wrath like he could never have predicted. In 2001, again with just a single wave of the wand that was his righteous right foot, his curse was lifted and he found his salvation.
Ultimately the 2002 World Cup would end in heartbreak for England, just as every major tournament had done for generations. Sadly no major trophy with England would define Beckham’s time as captain of his country, but few captains of his once-great nation can sing a tune any different to his.
Few players, when adorned with their country’s colours, cared as much as Beckham. In the nation’s history, there has perhaps never been an England captain so willing to die on the field should it mean ensuring success for his team. His passion and patriotism was largely unparalleled and, finally, in his virtuoso performance against Greece, Beckham proved it on the pitch.
Not many players have careers so succinctly represented by such distinguishable high and low points as David Beckham’s did for his country. Certainly, few are made to climb their way from the pits of damnation to the peaks of deification in the way he did. And, there is no doubt, no player’s journey found its end in a fashion quite like Beckham’s; in a manner so dramatic it is almost hard to believe it wasn’t performed from a script.
After a superb season in the Championship and a real feeling of camaraderie finally permeating the club, why does Rafa Benítez have to struggle so hard to convince the board and the owner to spend some money in this summer transfer window? Is there something going on that we’re unaware of?
We all know that Benítez is a man of his word. There’s no doubting his loyalty to the cause, and once he’s on board, he’s in for the long haul. He’s also a tactically astute manager who, at some of his previous clubs, didn’t really get a fair crack of the whip. So when he took over at Newcastle and agreed to stay on even after they had gone down, Toon fans knew they had finally struck gold with a manager. So why is it that Mike Ashley has dragged his heels on summer signings when doing so could lose Newcastle one of the most experienced managers they’ve had in recent memory?
The recent news that a Chinese consortium could be about to take over the club could have a lot to do with that. As it stands, the club is in pretty good order. Coming off the back of a good season on the pitch and with a world-class manager at the helm, the club makes for an attractive investment. Certainly more so than the likes of Sunderland or Villa.
Ashley remains coy on the matter, but it would seem to us that he has the air of a man that is about to sell up and move on. When a manager like Benítez, who likes to keep all his business in-house, is reduced to publicly rebuking the club and owner for not backing him in the transfer window, you know things have reached a breaking point.
Interestingly, Rafa said that he could move to China and make some money if he wanted to but would prefer to stay on and see the job through. Does this suggest that Ashley has intimated to people at the club that the manager is all about the money? It’s also interesting that Rafa should choose to mention China at a time when rumours are rife of a Chinese takeover.
Whatever is going on behind closed doors, it’s painfully obvious that the team needs to invest on the pitch. While the current squad is by no means poor, there needs to be more depth if the team is going to stay up and possibly make a push for a European place.
A historic club with a massive fan base that is both passionate and loyal, and the chance to work with a Champions League-winning manager, should be enough of a lure to any player that is prepared for a year without European competition. And while it might not be as cosmopolitan as London, there are still plenty of things to do in Newcastle for the bored footballer.
Rafa’s experience along with his continental connections should help Newcastle attract a different calibre of player this season. And while the Spaniard does like to recruit youthful English players (Jacob Murphy being the perfect example), Milan’s Suso may make the move to the Premier League.
Of course, Murphy’s signing could just be the start of a pretty active window, but it seems more likely that Ashley ratified the bid just to keep Benítez happy before the expected Chinese bid. As a bargaining chip, he is certainly worth more than an interim manager, or worse, Sam Allardyce.
Hopefully for Toon fans, the takeover will happen sooner rather than later because as it is, the club is in a state of transfer limbo and we can only see new ownership rectifying this. Either way, we certainly hope Benítez stays in charge if only for the catty press conferences from his arch nemesis, José Mourinho.
In this episode, Juan is joined by Prost Amerika’s Jony Rico. There they discuss what occurred in the Liga MX playoffs as well as they offer a preview of what’s to come in the matches on Thursday.
Jony delves into other topics as well as such as the positive outlook of Pachuca and the potentially complicated ones over at Club América.
2016 USL Defender of the Year and starting New York Red Bulls centre back Aaron Long joins the show and discusses his career; development; and who the toughest attacking player(s) he’s faced are. Scott and Otis break down NYCFC, Atlanta and ponder who the best team in MLS is.