David Beckham was rolled out as the big gun of England's 2018 World Cup finals bid yesterday – and with everything from strident patriotism, to the emotion at the death of his grandfather – duly delivered the required impact. But it was the lavish praise for Fifa's most influential powerbrokers, Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner, that will score the highest.
England's 2018 bid does not have many trump cards, but its best one flew into Cape Town on Wednesday, having paid for half the cost of his own flight, and he did not disappoint. Beckham spoke to everyone, from the Fifa president Blatter to the local kids behind the wire fence yesterday in Khayelitsha, South Africa's biggest township, and the site of Beckham's biggest publicity coup for the 2018 bid.
The 2018 bid's dire funding problems, the split between the FA and the Premier League representatives and the uncertain future of Lord Triesman faded for a couple of hours as Beckham dealt out the blandishments. He talked up his own patriotism and the influence of his maternal grandfather, Joseph West, who died this week.
"I was so close to my granddad," he said. "Being here is something that my granddad would be proud of. He was so proud of everything in my career and he followed every game. He called me after every game, every training session and after every big moment in my career. If I had just decided to go home, I know he would have been angry. He was a strong East End person.
"I will be there for the funeral without a doubt. But my granddad would have shouted at me for leaving this because he was passionate about his country, he fought for his country and I know how proud he was of me. He would have wanted me to stay."
Beckham has already presented Blatter with an autographed England shirt adorned with the Fifa president's name – never mind the stadiums and the infrastructure – these are the gestures that win you World Cup finals. Yesterday he was in Khayelitsha at an FA international development programme Coaching for Hope project, including special and HIV/Aids awareness courses for teenagers.
"I was brought up in the East End of London and I've been blessed in many of the things that I have in my life," Beckham said. "Many people take things for granted in life. You can talk about these townships and you can talk about different parts of the world that have poverty, but nothing prepares you [for] what it's like for the families and for kids.
"Going to Sierra Leone [with Unicef] 18 months ago was one of the most rewarding things I've done. As much as the poverty is horrendous there, you saw the positives. Then you come to somewhere like this and the plastic pitch just appears out of nowhere in the township. We take for granted how good we have it."
Then for the glad-handing that might be crucial to the success or otherwise of England's bid to host the 2018 tournament. The harshest criticism of the 2018 bid – which came from the Fifa executive committee (ExCo) member Jack Warner – has been that England lacked the star quality. Having been unable to fit a meeting with the Queen into his recent schedule, Warner found time to see Beckham this week.
"He is straight to the point," Beckham said of Warner, the president of Fifa's Concacaf region (north and central America and the Caribbean) who has caused havoc with his stinging attacks on England's 2018 bid.
"You know where you stand with him," Beckham said of the man whose son was involved in a ticketing scandal connected to Trinidad & Tobago's participation in the last World Cup. " I like him because he is honest, direct, tells you what he wants and how to do things and how not to do things.
"The negativity that has come from certain people – not just Jack – is for a reason. He does it to give us a chance to improve things and get it right." Whether that is enough to persuade Warner and the two further votes he is thought to control on the all-powerful 24-man ExCo is debatable. Beckham has already travelled to Warner's native Trinidad as captain of an England team that played a friendly there in the summer of last year. Even that didn't prevent Warner from going on the attack against England.
Beckham also described Blatter as a "football man" who "knows everything about football more than anyone I have met". Some statement, given that Beckham has played for Sir Alex Ferguson and Fabio Capello. But this is the dirty business of winning votes for England and every little helps.
"I've always been proud of my country. Even when I was a young kid, my grandparents loved the royal family and I was brought up like that," he said. "We watched every event that was on the telly. My dad took me to the Royal Tournament. I'm comfortable sitting in a room with the officials, but what I love doing is being a part of these events that have been created for kids."
That, indeed, is when Beckham is at his best. The FA will try to set up meetings between Beckham and the Uefa president, Michel Platini, and Issa Hayatou, both ExCo members, should permit. He will do his patriotic best with these powerbrokers of world football, but none of them will be as delighted to see Beckham as the kids in Khayelitsha.
"I feel that responsibility [for the bid] but it's a good thing," Beckham said. "I know nothing about politics but there are a certain amount of politics and I am prepared for that. When I was involved in the Olympic bid it was something that I wasn't used to but I enjoyed and learnt from. If we could get the World Cup to our country, it would be really amazing."Reuse content