The Limey
Friday June 15th, 2007

Buenos dias, esteemed Limey readers. The big news in the world of soccer this week comes from the land of paella, bull-fighting and cheap package holidays full of lobster-tanned, lager-quaffing Englishmen.

David Beckham's last game in European soccer this weekend gives us an excuse to brush up on our profoundly elementary Spanish and, more importantly, to report on the title-deciding final weekend of the Spanish Primera Liga (or SPL as it's known in Castle Limey, except when 225-pound cousin Hamish McSporran from Loch Limey visits to eulogize about soccer north of the border).

Heading into this weekend, Real Madrid and Barcelona are tied with 73 points. Real has the advantage thanks to its superior head-to-head record against the Catalans. This differs from the English Premier League, where goal difference is used as the prime differentiator between two teams with equal points.

Therefore, if Real Madrid beats Real Mallorca on Sunday, it wins the title regardless of Barça's result against the most supple team in the league, Gimnàstic.

On the face of it you would think, with mid-table Mallorca having nothing to play for, the game should be a walkover for title-hungry Madrid. However, even Team Limey's short-term memory (deficient since its college years) remembers raising its eyebrows at Real's failure to beat Real Zaragoza last weekend. Our eyebrows were raised even higher when it was reported each Zaragoza player received $50,000 as an incentive payment from a "source outside the club" following the 2-2 draw (it's alleged that would have been doubled had they won).

It's been subsequently reported by the (presumably in no way biased) Madrid sports newspaper La Marca that Mallorca has been promised $2.7 million should it beat Madrid on Sunday. The practice of paying such incentives is unsurprisingly illegal, but the Spanish Soccer Federation seems to have little appetite to do anything about it, commenting, "We know this exists, but as long as no complaint is filed, we can't do anything."

Inspector Limey inquired whether, on that basis, if a complaint was to be filed, then something would be done? "Several inquiries have been opened in recent years following complaints, but we have never managed to prove that these payments were made so no penalty has ever been handed out," the federation replied somewhat disinterestedly.

Despite the illegal payment controversy, nothing will stop trophy-starved Beckham from going for glory to win his only trophy in Spain and his first honor in four years with the club. The match also sees thunder-thighed Brazilian left back legend Roberto Carlos bowing out ahead of a move to Turkish champions Fenerbahçe.

Beckham's inspirational form of late for Real and his subsequent man of the match performances for England against Brazil and Estonia -- in which his pin-point passing set up three of the four goals England scored -- has stoked the coals in the debate over Becks' move to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

For years, a move to the showbiz capital of the world has been in the cards for Beckham, given his fame-hungry pop star wife, his A-list Hollywood friends and an apparent continued desire to develop Brand Beckham throughout more countries. It was a question of when, rather than if, he would move to the U.S.

With Beckham close to the form of his life, on the cusp of winning La Liga and putting in man of the match performances for England, it would seem now that the move has come too early. The move was engineered in a severe low point in Beckham's career -- he had been dropped by England after the World Cup and sat on the bench for Real Madrid, told in January that his contract wouldn't be renewed.

Sitting in such a gutter, it could be argued that the prospect of a move to L.A. rejuvenated him. In the long term, it has always been Beckham's intention that his U.S. move would act to develop the sporting aspect of Brand Beckham. To do this with any credibility, he has to do it while at the top of his game. Two more years at Real or another top European club would have seen a 34-year-old Beckham on the wane, unable to offer the same player to Major League Soccer at this stage of his career.

Team Limey is of the view that, had Becks still been in the England side, he wouldn't have made the decision to make the move when he did. However, the realization of what impact two years' worth of Beckham at the top of his game will have on MLS will make him realize he made the right decision.

The question of if he can still play for England is another matter. Irrelevant of whether he does or not, amid much controversy from some quarters, there are growing rumors that whenever he comes back to our shores, we will have to refer to him as "Sir David." Tony Blair said this week, "What he's done in the last few months for both his club and then for his country is remarkable and I think we should be proud of him as a country."

So much good entertainment relies on a double act, like Laurel and Hardy, Tom and Jerry, Franklin and Pickstone, Beckham and Bean. So is Beckham giving up his Aston Martin to join Rowan Atkinson in an aging yellow Mini Cooper? No, it's a tenuous mid-column link regarding David Beckham (Englishman, soccer player, likely future Hollywood star) and Sean Bean (Englishman, soccer club director, Hollywood star).

Bean, when not playing roles such as Boromir in Lord of the Rings and the treacherous Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye, is also a director of recently relegated Sheffield United.

On Wednesday, Bean has led a delegation to Westminster protesting to the British parliament about Sheffield United's relegation from the EPL. A last-day defeat at home to Wigan meant the Blades had acquired the third fewest amount of points across the season and were subsequently relegated.

However, the club is arguing that West Ham should have been deducted points, not fined, for using a player -- Carlos Tévez -- who was not properly registered and therefore that West Ham should be relegated instead.

Bean told the media: "I think I'm in a position to express my opinion and that of many Sheffield United fans aggrieved by the decision that was made by the original panel. ... My message to [the members of Parliament] would be to thank them for the support we've had -- I think we've had 40-plus MPs getting behind us and they've shown sympathy for our cause."

Forty miles west across the Pennine mountains, uncertainty also reigns at Manchester City, where Thaksin "Frank" Shinawatra's takeover bid hit a major hurdle when, due to suspected fraudulent activity in the sell-off of telecom firm Shin Corp., bank accounts worth $1.6 billion were frozen in his Thai homeland by the military government that toppled him in a bloodless coup.

Oasis rock megastar and City fan Noel Gallagher described the situation as "pure Man City" before hyperbolically commenting that, "The fixture list comes out on Thursday, we haven't got a manager, we've only got half a team, we haven't sold any season tickets. It's brilliant." Thaksin's agents say the takeover is still proceeding with him having in excess of $2 million in assets outside Thailand, but City has notably stepped up the search for a new manager, a sign that it is not continuing to put matters on ice while waiting for Thaksin.

Gallagher's comment relating to low season-ticket sales were exaggerated, but with Sylvain Distin's Bosman transfer to Portsmouth and Joey Barton's $11.5 million departure to Newcastle, City has lost two of its four key players and desperately needs reinforcements.

Barton will replace Scott Parker in the Newcastle engine room, with the former Magpie having moved to West Ham for $14 million. Aston Villa has made a $14 million bid for West Ham's Nigel Reo-Coker and Bolton has paid $2 million for Villa's Gavin McCann. To complete the midfield merry-go-round, Man City is said to be interested in Bolton's Kevin Nolan.

Steve of Las Vegas wrote in wanting our views on of the three teams promoted from the Championship to the EPL, and asking who we think has the best chance of staying up.

We reckon that with the strongest squad of the three, and with Roy Keane at the helm, Sunderland has a big name and a big personality with contacts who will be able to attract some big-name signings. Look out for the Black Cats putting in a much better season than the disaster that Keane's nemesis, Mick McCarthy, oversaw during the '05-06 season, when they finished with a record low 15 points and recorded only three wins.

"Your sarcastic banter seems to have been toned down significantly over the last few months," writes Tom of Chicago. Tom, as writer of this week's prize-winning letter, take your pick from a poster of Steve Bruce's ugliest moments, the Gary Neville-endorsed beard trimmer or Emile Heskey's annual supply of pies.

Following the breaking news that 17 transfers involving five EPL clubs (Chelsea, Middlesbrough, Bolton, Portsmouth and Newcastle) have been named in Lord Stevens' final report into alleged transfer irregularities, Team Limey is heading for a discreet retreat on the Costa del Crime.

Any amusing ideas of how to while away a few years on the run should be directed to thelimey@hotmail.co.uk.

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