Better off Beckham
"The proof our technical team was right in not considering his continuity has been ratified as nobody wanted him." -- Real Madrid president Ramón Calderón, January 2007
"There was a bit of anger by the premature announcement of his exit, but we are now going to make an effort for him to stay. I would be delighted if he remained at the club." -- Calderón, June 10, 2007
This past weekend, Beckhamania reached its absurd level. After reading about the last-ditch "Save Beckham" shenanigans by Real Madrid president Calderón, I pulled out my copy of the old John Cusack movie Better off Dead.
Think about it: Becks is Lane Meyer. He's been cast off by the good-looking girl (Beth/Real Madrid) for not being good enough, picked up by a strange new girl (Monique/L.A. Galaxy), and, after showing he can ski the K-12/bend it like himself, he's once again most desirable.
I guess that makes Tom Cruise the real-life equivalent of Charles De Mar -- who's played by Booger from Revenge of the Nerds. (Honestly, does anyone know that actor's name without looking it up on imdb.com? Didn't think so.)
Remaining true to his inner Lane, Beckham is doing the right thing and sticking with the new girl. "I think all you need is a small taste of success, and you will find it suits you," as the new girl, a.k.a. Monique Junot, says.
Seriously, the verbal diarrhea flowing from Calderón's mouth -- and the mouths of English pundits who suddenly worry for Beckham's footballing future -- is hilarious. Six months ago, Becks couldn't get a run with a pub team on the Fulham Road. He was on the bench at Real Madrid, practically banished from the club by manger Fabio Capello. He was discarded by England new national team manager, Steve McClaren, like the leftovers from a week-old Shepherd's pie.
But now, with Beckham playing -- and playing well -- everyone's panicking.
Capello reportedly told his "friend" Giorgio Chinaglia that letting Beckham go was a "big mistake" -- although Capello has yet to admit that benching Beckham earlier in the season was a mistake, big or little.
Calderón is hinting that there is some mysterious "clause" in Beckham's Real Madrid contract that will allow the Galácticos to keep him -- although if you read the fine print in his statements, you'll notice that Calderón has been very careful not to declare outright the existence of this clause.
Well, let me tell you: There is no clause. Calderón's just struggling to save face in the eyes of Real Madrid fans, who have always liked Beckham and stuck by him when Capello and Calderón were throwing him to the lions. The fans respected his professionalism. They even cheered him when he appeared at the Bernabéu -- in the stands, mind you, benched by Capello -- a few days after the MLS contract was announced.
The fans are more important in this case than in most. Because remember, Beckham is a marketing tool as much as he is a player. Actually, back in January, more than a few Europeans went out of their way to tell me that Beckham's signing had nothing to do with football and everything to do with marketing.
Now that Beckham is back, they screech, it has everything to do with football. Many European observers say that Beckham is too good for MLS (paging Mr. Alan Shearer) or that he needs to stay in Europe to continue developing and prepare for any international call-ups (paging all BBC reporters).
Where were all of you in January? Exactly, you were scoffing at the Galaxy's reported $250 million contract.
No one over here has ever disagreed that Beckham is a marketing tool. He's coming to California to sell the game to Americans, much like Wayne Gretzky was brought to L.A. to sell hockey. Becks is a kind of modern-day centaur: half-brand/half-footballer. He knows it. Everyone knows it. But Calderón seemed to forget this back in January when he spouted off and tried to appear tough.
For his part, Becks has remained professional through it all. He's never been negative. He's never lashed out at Capello for benching him or Calderón for disrespecting him. This is why the fans stayed on his side. He remained above the fray.
And when finally Capello remembered that Beckham is actually a great player (or had that fact recalled for him by some of his more veteran players, who supposedly suggested he play Beckham), Beckham rewarded the fans' adoration with some dreamlike performances. Ever since then, things have gone fantastically well for Real Madrid. It is neck-and-neck with Barcelona heading into this weekend's La Liga finale.
And suddenly, Beckham is Lane Meyer after skiing the K-12 -- "You ski the K-12, dude, and girls go sterile just looking at you" -- and Calderón is Beth, trying to get him back, standing on the sidelines, under the realization that he's about to lose his best-laying golden goose.
Now that Beckham's on top of the world again, "Beckham 23" jerseys are probably selling like sushi in Tokyo. Thing is, they're Galaxy jerseys.