Football: Petulant Beckham clouds a gala night in Graz for United

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The Independent Online
IT HAD been a good night for Manchester United in Europe and not for the first time David Beckham was at the core of the post-match conversation. On this occasion, however, no one was rushing to praise the European midfielder of the year but to wonder at the faultline running through his core.

He should have been sent off for a moment of idiocy during United's 3- 0 Champions' League win over Sturm Graz in Austria on Wednesday, which would have dampened the mood of relief on the plane home as well as generating a mountain of headlines. To kick a player off the ball is asking for trouble but in Beckham's case he seems to be making that inquiry more and more.

With the season not even two months old the irrepressible child within him has made gestures to Liverpool and Leeds supporters, raked Jamie Redknapp with a rush of rage that could have severely injured his England colleague and on Wednesday he lashed out at Tomislav Kocijan when the game had already been won and the physical attention had not been over zealous.

Yet this is the player who for a year withstood horrendous abuse in the wake of his sending off in another off-the-ball incident in the World Cup. He won admiration for his restraint then, but the well of sympathy is rapidly running dry because he is acting like man who believes he has served his penance and feels he can act without concern for the consequences.

"It was a tackle from behind," Kocijan said. "The ball had gone away and Beckham tackled me again. If the referee had seen it, it would definitely be a red card but maybe he protected him because of what happened to him in the World Cup."

Ironically, Beckham was booked in an incident in which he was the innocent party but the Graz players had been aggrieved that no action had been taken earlier and had upped their challenges on him accordingly. For a while he reacted in turn, charging round like someone hell-bent on self- destruction.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who claimed not to have seen the first incident - "because there was nothing to see" - should have substituted him for his own good.

The referee, Italy's Alfredo Trentalange, also did not see anything untoward at the time. And yesterday, a Uefa spokesman confirmed that the referee's report had not mentioned the incident either. "Beckham's yellow card is included, but nothing else," the spokesman for European football's governing body said.

"The referee should have sent him off because it was a bad foul," Roman Mahlich, the player booked with Beckham in the later incident, said. "It was a red card definitely. He was arrogant and I was a little angry with him. He's a good player; he doesn't have to play like that. I wasn't impressed with Beckham tonight, he didn't play well. He's one of the best in the world, but tonight he showed his bad side. I have to respect him for what he has done for football in Europe and England, but he should concentrate on playing football."

It is a thought that has crossed most minds and if his manager has not impressed it upon him before he should do it now. Or risk being further debilitated by losing his most creative midfield player.