David Beckham may not be as clever as he thinks, but his brain works a damn sight quicker than those at the Football Association.
David Beckham may not be as clever as he thinks, but his brain works a damn sight quicker than those at the Football Association. Indeed, their reaction to a week of boundless controversy over the great yellow-card contrivance suggests that they have replaced their brains with a built-in delaying mechanism.
How else can you explain their extra-ordinary decision to invite their captain to submit a written explanation of his actions before, during and after clattering Ben Thatcher during the World Cup qualifier against Wales a week ago yesterday? There is scarcely a man, woman or child in the land who isn't familiar with what happened, and with the full workings of the Beckham thought-processes throughout the whole sorry saga. The player himself has been extremely generous with full and frank admissions, followed by a lengthy apology full of soulful contrition.
I'm aware that the FA are short of a chief executive at the moment, but they have enough highly paid bodies around to realise the advantage of a swift resolution to the affair.
If they needed to hear Beckham go through it all again they could have sent a message saying: "Strap up your ribs and get your arse over to Soho Square"; and just to show that they know a bit of Spanish, too, they could have added the word "pronto". They could have then dealt with him immediately and impres-sed us with a piece of summary justice which would satisfy Sepp Blatter, the Fifa boss, who is a confounded nuisance but is entitled to have the incident dealt with firmly and quickly. But, no; they prefer to put their foot on the ball and slow the game down. They are attempting to give the impression that some sage deliberation is about to take place and all they've managed is to look stupid.
The pomposity behind Friday's request to Beckham says it all. They ask him to explain his actions on three issues: "the incident involving Ben Thatcher which resulted in him receiving a yellow card; the motivation which led him to making the challenge; and subsequent comments attributed to him..." Beckham has until Friday to respond and then they will decide which charge, if any, will be laid against him. With any luck it'll all be over by Christmas.
I doubt if they will have the courage to take the necessary action to punish him and dissuade anyone else from attempting to rig the rules to suit himself. The only way that can be achieved is to give him the suspension he tried to avoid. He should miss the next World Cup qualifier England play, which is against Northern Ireland next March. If the FA won't do it then I hope Fifa will, because it is the only punishment that fits his particular crime, and would carry a far bigger impact than any fine or severe reprimand.
There is a wider matter to be considered. Had Beckham not made his confession in public but merely confided his brainwave to Sven Goran Eriksson, he would have received a congratulatory pat on the head from the head coach.
In fact, any head coach or manager would have reacted the same. All the criticism he received from within football was for the sin of admitting it. The game, in its wisdom, accepts what he did as integral to the profession.
That attitude applies to any sport. Anything you can get away with is accepted and condoned. Fellow pros were queuing up to reveal how the deliberate acquisition of yellow cards can be used to advantage. One bragged that he usually managed to get Boxing Day off by dint of suspension manipulation.
Typically, Eriksson felt that Beckham's apology should be the end of the matter. "For me, it's finished," he said, thereby relentlessly pursuing his policy of absolving his players from everything resembling blame.
Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, was less forgiving, and said the player was wrong and that he would never encourage his players to do such things. "It is not respecting the spirit of the game," he said. Wenger also added the practical observation that it could have been a red card. I suspect that there was a strong element of vengeance for his rib-cracking clash with Thatcher previously, as well as subterfuge, about Beckham's notorious challenge, so a red card might have been an option.
Beckham wasn't alone in attracting the wrong sort of publicity last week. Wales's two defeats in five days ensured that Mark Hughes left the international scene in sorrow. He was unfortunate to lose Andy Melville just before the England match and then Ryan Giggs before they played Poland. They played better losing against Poland on Wednesday that they did against England, when they didn't play at all, but two of them, namely Craig Bellamy and Robbie Savage, managed to stifle their disappointment at letting him down by demanding to be heard on the subject of his successor.
As if their wages aren't enough to satisfy them, some players are tending to elevate themselves to tin-god status. No chance to disabuse them of that attitude should be wasted.
Football in its Haynes day
Johnny Haynes celebrates his 70th birthday today, and those old enough to have watched his mastery for Fulham and England from the inside-left position will have plenty to remember of a career that could have been even more illustrious.
A car crash confined his international appearances to 56, 22 of them as captain, and it is not too fanciful to say that had the Manchester United air disaster of 1958 not robbed England of such great players as Duncan Edwards, Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor, he might have played in a World Cup winning team.
Haynes has been living in Scotland for some years now, and I had the pleasure of seeing him earlier this year, when we reminisced about my glory days as the editor of the Fulham programme.
Brilliant as he was, his label in the game's history will be for becoming football's first £100-a-week player after the maximum wage was lifted in 1961. It's a laughable sum compared with today's rewards. But it's not the money that Haynes envies about the modern players, it's the perfect pitches and the ball. "When I remember playing in ankle-deep mud and with the old leather balls, I have to think that players today don't know they are born," he said last week.
Old 'uns invariably claim that things were tougher in their day, but it would be interesting to see how they'd cope.Reuse content