Beckham the ideal salesman smooths away English troubles
The former captain has taken a leading role in the bid's late revival
Thursday 02 December 2010
Only once yesterday did David Beckham find himself lost for words. "Oh my god, you've got me all flustered," he told a female television reporter who had just asked him how he managed to stay "so beautiful".
Beckham has been fielding those kind of nonsense, puffball questions all his career and his aw-shucks response has always proved a winner. But it was how he handled the rest of yesterday's set-piece England 2018 bid press conference that will resonate, whether his country are triumphant or not today.
The debate about Beckham the footballer, not to mention Beckham the personality, is so polarised that it can be hard to have a sensible discussion about him. His critics say he is a fraud; his adoring public at Wembley only need sight of a tattooed arm to break out the standing ovation. So just one simple point about him: yesterday, Beckham was brilliant.
English football has always sought a high profile ex-player as an ambassador like Germany has Franz Beckenbauer and France has Michel Platini. Of course, they both won trophies for their country which will never happen for Beckham now, but at 35 and with his last England cap probably behind him he is doing the next best thing: turning up the full wattage of his charm to try to win the 2018 World Cup for England.
Beckham has the unusual quality of being completely plausible to the extent that when he declares himself "a traditionalist" brought up by his "nan and grandad" to admire the royal family, you find yourself thinking: why not? When he promises the world that the English media will behave themselves and get behind an English World Cup, there is no one else who could say that without fear of ridicule.
In Becks' world, there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome by either "looking at the positives" or recalling a salient lesson from his old mentor Sir Alex Ferguson. "All the way through my career, especially playing for Manchester United, I knew how important it was to keep fighting to the last minute," he said yesterday as if the last 24 hours of lobbying were no simpler than picking out Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from a corner.
What Beckham did so effectively for England's bid yesterday was to blow away the inconvenient details. The small matter of BBC's Panorama investigation uncovering corruption in the Fifa executive committee (ExCo)? Beckham says he has smoothed it over with Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president. The thorny question of whether Jack Warner will deliver the three Concacaf votes? Don't worry, Beckham promised to speak to Warner last night.
Crucial to his credibility as a public figure is his delivery which has improved immeasurably too. There was a time when he would recite the key message so blatantly that his media handlers might as well have saved him the bother and handed out the briefing sheet. Now he is smoother, more articulate and much more relaxed.
Beckham still regards himself as a professional footballer above all and said again yesterday that he had not given up on playing for England, and beyond that he is not prepared to embrace the ambassadorial role for good. "I have enjoyed it. It is something I never thought I would do," he said.
"I was eating my breakfast watching Sky News and saw myself sat next to Prince William and the Prime Minister. I was getting messages from my mates saying, 'Really?' But it is something I have enjoyed, I never thought I would."
But the truth is that in modern Britain where politics, celebrity and even class are no longer mutually exclusive, Beckham is a natural bedfellow for a Prime Minister and a future King. And for all those who find the Beckham generation of footballer impossible to accept, should England win today it will be him who takes much of the credit, and deservedly so.
Beckham never won a World Cup with England. In fact he never got close but the next best thing would be to deliver the tournament to the country. Beginning with his star turn in Cape Town last December, when he dazzled Fifa after the first meltdown within England's bid team, to today's 10am presentation with Cameron and Prince William, he has given more to this than any other English footballer.
"We love the game," Beckham said. "We have always said that right the way through our presentation and throughout our bid. We don't want to come across as arrogant and I don't think we have. We are a nation of a very successful league. This is our time."
Asked if Monday's Panorama programme put the English bid 1-0 down, figuratively speaking, and given that Tuesday was the first day of the fight-back, where were they now? "I suppose Ole is warming up," Beckham said. Although, as is his way, he immediately made it clear he was not being presumptuous.
Decision day details
England 5-4 (Fav); Russia 6-4; Spain/Portugal 7-2; Belgium/Netherlands 33-1 (Bet365).
England's five-man team to deliver the 30-minute presentation today to ExCo members at Fifa Headquarters in Zurich: Prince William, Prime Minister David Cameron, David Beckham, CEO of the bid Andy Anson, plus Eddie Afekafe, Social Inclusion Manager at Manchester City and Young Ambassador of the Year for the Prince's Trust.
Decision day times
Belgium/Netherlands will start the bid presentations at 8am followed by Spain/Portugal at 9am, England at 10am and Russia at 11am. At about 1pm the secret ballot voting process will begin. At 3pm, Fifa President Sepp Blatter will announce both the 2018 and 2022 (from Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea and United States, who pitched their presentations in Zurich yesterday) hosts.
How the voting procedure works
A bid must win 12 votes to gain an overall majority. Until an outright majority is achieved, voting will take place in rounds with the bidder with the fewest votes eliminated. If tied, then Sepp Blatter will cast the deciding vote.
TV BBC 2: From 2.45pm.
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