Back in 2004, British journalist John Carlin, in his book White Angels published a fascinating insider's view on the whole saga of David Beckham leaving Manchester United and signing for Real Madrid. In it he describes how the Spanish club's marketing director, José Angel Sánchez could not believe his lucky stars when Peter Kenyon, Manchester United's chief executive said he would be prepared to accept £25 million for the England captain. Peanuts!, thought Sánchez, who privately valued Beckham's worth in marketing terms at 500 million euros.
Carlin lays the blame for Manchester United's uncharacteristic lack of financial acumen firmly at the feet of Alex Ferguson, rather than Peter Kenyon's. The United manager's well publicised bust-ups with his player meant that their relationship had irretrievably broken down and Ferguson just wanted to get rid of his troublesome media star.
Earlier this year, half-way through last season, Carlin describes how Beckham has been instrumental in turning Real Madrid into the biggest football brand in the World in marketing terms. He cautions however, that unless footballing success comes for both, the value of the joint brand will diminish.
Hence David Beckham's dilemma in a season where Real Madrid are finally showing some grit and solidity at the back and where they may once again be in contention for a title come next summer, but where the Englishman has been relegated to the bench in the majority of Fabio Capello's line-ups. Can he fight his way back into the starting eleven? Can he cope with just being "one more in the team" should the club win a trophy this season? Can he really do better elsewhere? Will he leave in January? In a recent online poll in Marca, 41% of the voters wanted him to leave, against 59% who wanted him to stay (37% for footballing reasons and 22% for financial reasons).
I have said elsewhere that I expect him to stay this season and to sign a contract extension of at least one year, if not two. To leave in January would mean not being able to compete in Europe as he's cup-tied with Real Madrid. I see no likely candidates for him to go to at the end of the season. There's no point in being the star player in a team that's not going to compete in Europe; that won't promote his brand. His slowness in adapting to life and the language in Spain suggests that he is unlikely to want to move anywhere other than back to England which leaves the following options: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, and... Barcelona.
Alex Ferguson has taken some time to rebuild his team following the departure of Beckham and Van Nistelrooy (and others) and is unlikely to welcome him back with open arms. I don't think Mourinho would guarantee a starting place for him just because he's David Beckham, and he has plenty of talent at his disposal. Arsenal and Liverpool are slightly more likely if only because they would like the opportunity to rub it into Manchester United's face, but, in footballing terms, they just don't need him. Barcelona would probably relish the chance of paying Real Madrid back for the Figo incident, the start of the whole galáctico era. Again, I just don't see Rijkaard as being the type of manager who would play Beckham just because he's in the squad; that's not the reputation he has built for himself. Oh yeah, he'd also have to learn Catalan...
In conclusion, David Beckham is no longer an essential element for a team that wants to compete at the highest level. He still has a massive marketing presence, and is therefore very attractive in financial terms. His best bet in my opinion would be to stay at Real Madrid, continue fighting for his place (just like McManaman did when he was judged to be 'surplus to requirements', winning the fans' support in the process) and hope that Real win the trophies that would make his move abroad worthwhile.
Friday, 27 October 2006
[Update 29/10/2006: Coincidentally, John Carlin wrote a piece in Sunday's Observer newspaper analysing the plight of David Beckham. He reaches a different conclusion from mine in that he believes Beckham will leave Real Madrid either in January or at the end of the season, but that effectively, he is already on the downhill slope career-wise and that no matter where he ends up, he has little future to speak off. Very depressing. A different view of this article can also be found on Linda's blog, The Beautiful Game]