Oh, that ‘Goldenbollocks’ could still call on the sage advice and careful whispers of Sir Alex Ferguson when he managed the footballer, then 21, at Manchester United. He might not be in PR hell today.
Then again Fergie may not have been able to stop Becks becoming the undeniably pretty face of Qatar, dismal human rights record and all. The great Scottish footballing knight of the realm had many gifts of persuasion and paternalistic conviction.
And if none of them worked he could bring out “The Hairdryer” – the roaring blast of his displeasure which left helpless victims studying the handiwork of 1960s Glasgow dentists and the old-school disciplinarian boss’s furiously waggling tonsils.
The reason why I think Fergie may not have been able to stop Beckham digging himself into a hole in the Qatari desert stems from thinking back to when dressing-room relations deteriorated and Sir Alex kicked a stray football boot at the player. Beckham’s response was to drive around Manchester the next day, very slowly with the car windows down, to show off the ickle wound on his generously moisturised forehead.
To make sure no one missed the “damage”, he pulled back his hair with an Alice band. Result: PR victory for Becks, England’s fascination for its desperately sought sporting hero begins to build into an obsession (later an insane fetish) and Alice bands sell out everywhere.
So how can Beckham not score another victory in the Middle East? And what do I mean by PR hell when the contract to promote Qatar for the next decade is worth a reported £150 million?
Well, human rights campaigners like Amnesty International are extremely unhappy about the tie-up. And Unicef’s views on it would be highly interesting given that Beckham is their goodwill ambassador.
I’d like to hear the bold Becks attempting to square his work for the children’s charity with his highly remunerative involvement with a Gulf state where male guardianship laws which essentially shackle girls – never mind the ban on homosexuality and poor treatment of migrant workers. Fergie, the ex-union rabble-rouser who once led a strike, would surely have a lot to say about all of that.
But I bet Beckham believes he will not tarnish his carefully cultivated image here. He is vain and conceited enough to back himself to come up smelling of roses yet again. Or perhaps of David Beckham Bold Instinct, the ninth – ninth! – fragrance to bear his name.
The others are David Beckham Homme, David Beckham Classic, David Beckham Beyond, David Beckham Beyond Belief, David Beckham Fatuous, David Beckham Unavoidable, David Beckham Tyranny and David Beckham Roaster.
Okay, I made up some of the names and admit to not being a fan. If I’d been present at the 2002 World Cup, I would not have been among those teenage South Korean girls who followed him everywhere.
That was when it became less about the game and more about the hair, the tattoos, the famous friends, the pop-star wife, the underpants, the missus’s knickers which he occasionally wore, the sarongs, the Christ-on-a-cross magazine covers, the entire ridiculous circus. “David wanted to be a star,” affirmed team-mate Gary Neville on a recent BBC’s documentary, the pair having been kids together at Man U. Not just a top player but a star. Fergie took a dim view of that and in 2003 got rid of Beckham.
Just as Posh Spice was a pop singer who couldn’t sing so Beckham was a footballer who – in George Best’s considered opinion – “couldn’t run, tackle, head the ball or use his left foot… apart from that he was brilliant”. By then, though, none of the shortcomings really mattered. Usually hard-nosed observers of the game had turned into teenage South Korean girls. Beckham’s great glamour had seduced everyone.
Apart from your correspondent who strongly suspected that the painted fool, with his little legs starting to give out on him, was attempting to turn football into gridiron or even golf.
Football’s beauty, compared to other sports, is the ball is always moving. Beckham, though, preferred it to be static. The quarterback in the American version of football makes plays from a standing position. Beckham would spread-eagle himself – “Ooo, I’m a starfish!” – to win free-kicks. Fewer and fewer of those would result in goals, however, but when a team-mate scored he would make sure he was the most prominent in the celebrations to flash that Ultrabrite smile for the cameras.
Beckham performed underwhelmingly for England at all three of his World Cups and you might think that would be his motivation for wanting to be the poster boy for the Qatari edition happening next year. But this contract goes beyond the tournament and Beckham clearly sees his power and influence going beyond football.
Remember, he could have become Minister for Sport. In 2013 a prominent member of the government – rumoured to be George Osborne – dreamed up the bonkers wheeze, with Beckham being first ennobled in the House of Lords. And that was the year he was apoplectic about not being awarded a knighthood, allegedly branding the honours committee “unappreciative c***s”.
What kind of world existed before Beckham? For some, it must be hard to remember. Few had heard of the metatarsal before he fell over a ball; then they all wanted one. Then they all wanted to be metrosexual. Even now England cannot seem to confirm new trends – bee-keeping, electric cars, flat caps – until they’ve been anointed by Becks.
Can he, then, change a country’s entire culture for the better? Stranger things have happened, but I still think Fergie should have a wee word.