David and Victoria Beckham: Can they mend it like Beckhams?

Whatever the outcome of this "torrid" tale of love by text-messaging (or maybe more), it looks like the beginning of the end of the affair with Madrid for football's most glamorous star. Posh wants Becks back in England... and then there's the small matter of Chelski
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The Independent Online

David Beckham has always been very attached to his mobile phone. In fact he has several - one for family, one for football and one for his management company - and runs up astronomical bills on all of them. In the earliest days of his relationship with Victoria Adams, when Posh was often away touring with the Spice Girls, the mobile phone was their one crucial link, though others did not always appreciate this modern means of communicating nascent love. During a pre-match team talk at Manchester United, it's said that David's phone began to ring shrilly - prompting Sir Alex Ferguson, without batting an eyelid, to step forward, take the mobile from the hands of his star player and drop it in the bin.

What, you have to wonder, does Sir Alex make of the mess David Beckham has got himself into now, awareness of which was aroused by some steamy text messages to Rebecca Loos, his former personal assistant? Many at Old Trafford resented "bossy" Victoria's influence. There were mutterings about how she courted publicity in a way that risked damaging the club when she had a record to sell. Whether this reflected Neanderthal macho football attitudes or her drive for stardom is not clear. Victoria, a more vulnerable and insecure figure than commonly portrayed, was not admired by her husband's former boss.

And does Victoria rue the efforts she apparently made to assert her husband's independence from Ferguson? There is great irony in Beckham's discovery of the Spanish party scene, since a social life beyond football was what Posh always craved and Sir Alex forbade. The fact that Beckham, finally off the Old Trafford leash at 28, is alleged to have enjoyed that social life with at least one other woman casts 29-year-old Victoria's triumph over her old nemesis in a wholly different light. The uncynical would say that David's alleged infidelity also constitutes her personal tragedy. Once asked what she would do if he had an affair, she replied: "It's easy to think I would throw him out, burn his clothes, but I actually think it would kill me. I'd die of a broken heart."

Certainly, reports of a fling (described jeeringly and inevitably as "torrid") with Rebecca Loos threaten the whiter-than-white, newer-than-new image upon which Beckham has built a multi-million-pound business and an unrivalled popularity. It's clear that Becks the Playboy will not sell football boots to pre-teens with quite the effectiveness of Becks the Devoted Father and Adoring Husband. Indeed, Beckham plc, a brand and a business built on the self-evident reality of Posh and Becks' love, will surely suffer irrevocably from any proven dent in their cleverly marketed image of domestic perfection.

Posh and Becks - never Becks and Posh - first met at a charity football match in London in 1997. Famously, he had seen her before on a Spice Girls video and professed a red-blooded interest in her, though they swapped mobile numbers at her instigation since, when confronted by Posh in the flesh, he got a bad case of stage fright. Previously, his tastes had been entirely traditional: she was the first non-blonde he went out with.

Few people doubt that their love then was genuine, though statements made at the time may come back to haunt them. "I knew as soon as I met him that one of the most attractive things about David was that he shared the same sort of family values as me," said Victoria. "I really liked that."

Their first son, Brooklyn, was born in March 1999, but their real coronation as secular royals came, in a mildly ironic caricature of wealth, fame and lurve, with their wedding at Luttrellstown Castle near Dublin, thrones and all, presided over by the Bishop of Cork. Gary Neville was best man; OK! magazine paid £1m for the pictures, and the happy couple - they were undoubtedly blissful - honeymooned at Lord Lloyd- Webber's house at Cap Ferrat.

Meanwhile, the Spice Girls had split up, and Posh, before embarking on a solo career, spent her time doing up Beckingham Palace in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire. Though for years Victoria earned more money than Beckham, it was in 2001 that Sven Goran Eriksson first made David captain of the England team, and cemented his position as Britain's foremost sporting idol.

The Beckhams were now faced with a very modern dilemma: was either prepared to compromise careers for the sake of the marriage? The answer was no, not really. Beckham's move last summer to Real Madrid, whose players have never been noted for their sexual abstinence, coincided with Victoria's musical collaboration with the producer Damon Dash in New York. Victoria had no intention of sacrificing a record deal to go and live in Spain, which gave rise to speculative stories about the state of their marriage. Beckham was pictured "out on the town", often with team-mates Ronaldo or Roberto Carlos, both of whom split with their own wives within a year of joining Real, and we know what message that juxtaposition was meant to imply, don't we? After each "revelation", when Brand Beckham needed a polish, they would crank up the PR machine and step out in a very public show of marital harmony, much as they did last week in the snow at Courchevel.

But now, it seems, a line has been crossed. Maybe when the opportunity of "meaningless" sex was put in his way, the Golden Boy was no less susceptible to temptation than the next man. The Sun has had 11 reporters on the story and the vigour with which the press has pursued putative lovers should send shivers down Beckham's richly tattooed spine.

If all of this is unlikely to break the Posh and Becks marriage - because by all other appearances it is stronger than that - it remains to be seen how they can sidestep this first marital crisis in a way that preserves the interests of Beckham plc. In a world of imperfect relationships, their fairytale ideal appealed to millions. Together, they are the most sugary of ads for family values. (Assuming their marriage survives, the image stylists will need to work on a "Posh and Becks Join the Real World" template.) Apart they would be flawed and mortal, although that is not the only reason this episode seems unlikely to derail their relationship. The Beckhams didn't fall in love to end up arguing over custody of their adored children. But, once the excruciating allegations about Platinumballs's prowess have been ventilated, mocked and forgotten, the Beckhams are bound to find themselves taking stock.

David has flourished in Madrid, but that may have to come to an end. Real have faltered badly, losing the Spanish Cup final to struggling Zaragoza last month, and crashing out of the Champions' League to Monaco last week. How much happier would the Beckhams be if he were playing in England for a club with great pretensions, unlimited cash and the European Cup in its sights? Joining Chelsea would not entail a drop in earnings, would allow the happy couple as much quality time in front of the cameras as they wanted, and, if followed by success on the field, would do more than anything to discomfort - and possibly in the long term remove - Alex Ferguson. Even for someone still so in love with Manchester United, for Beckham that must appeal almost as much as it must to his wife.

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