Real life presses on Beckham

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The Independent Football

Growing speculation that David Beckham may be heading back to English football with Chelsea surely carries little power to surprise. This is a career which for a long time has been about today's headlines and tomorrow's possibilities rather than any sustained reality on the field. There is maybe good reason for this. Reality so often simply doesn't pass muster.

Take last Wednesday's European Cup tie with Bayern Munich at the Bernabeu - supposedly Beckham's biggest game since his arrival in Spain was greeted with a sunburst of headlines last year.

Real won by a single goal, deservedly so on the balance of play, but did Beckham confirm the magical success of his transference to central midfield? Hardly. He played decently. The big midfield performance came from the local boy Jose Maria Gutierrez - Guti. He looked much more at home at the centre of affairs than Beckham because it just happened to be his natural position, one perfectly suited to his instincts.

A true central midfielder has one great asset. He has unerring positional sense; he reads the play so well that he appears to be a magnet for the ball. This enables him to dictate the course of a game. He can set the rhythm, he can carry the game. This is the foundation of creativity in football. Beckham, no doubt, is a beautiful passer of the ball, but he achieves his effect best on the right side of the field. Unlike Guti against Bayern, he didn't achieve for himself the time and space of the natural field general.

However, Beckham and many of his admirers are convinced that his best role is in the middle of the field. So naturally we have read endlessly that even though he is now 28 this is a change fundamental to his needs as a footballer - and England's as potential major championship-winners. It is hard to think of any of the world's major players who have ever been involved in such a debate about the best use of their talent at such an advanced stage of their careers, and does this not tell us something more about some of our nagging sense of a gap between Beckham's image and his achievements?

His difficulties in Madrid seem to have one major source - the conflict between the best possible prosecution of his football career and his happiness as a young family man. This is a sadness that can be identified with easily enough - as easily, perhaps, as the tracking of its source. The fact that Beckham's wife continues to prefer to live near London is, after all, merely a continuation of the pattern that existed when Beckham played for Manchester United. Then, the question most often asked was in which colours "Posh Spice" would most like to see her husband. Real was considered to be a promising option, with Milan or Internazionale strong runners considering the proximity of the fashion catwalks.

One cruel offering was that perhaps the ideal team would be Earls Park - the mythic team of television's Footballers' Wives. Then celebrity could be preserved without the need to have boots and to travel meaningfully, with a strong family support system, in the best interests of an ultimately high-profile career.

Perhaps the most disconcerting comment of Mrs Beckham came at the time when, as her husband faced the huge challenge of performing alongside the likes of Ronaldo, Raul, Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane, she announced that she was putting perhaps the final stage of her pop career in the hands of her old manager, Simon Fuller. She said that Fuller could make "all her dreams come true".

What remaining dreams were these? This was a young woman who, we were told, was deeply in love with one of the world's most famous young men, who had enjoyed a spectacular success in the pop world, who had two healthy young sons and wealth beyond the dreams of most of humanity, talking about unfulfilled ambitions. In that single quote we perhaps could see clearly the extent of the problem working so strongly against Beckham's successful transfer to a city deeply schooled in the art of judging the quality and the commitment of the world's best football players.

Real Madrid, it is said, will entertain offers for David Beckham. The suggestion is that they have a certain amount of sympathy for his plight. Don't we all?