Chris McGrath: Beckham award bad for our health

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Not a bad line that, from Fabio Capello. But it didn't quite do justice to the situation. Naming David Beckham as man of the match at Wembley on Wednesday was not "like Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize after eight months". It was like David Beckham getting the Nobel Peace Prize. And while you are about it, you might as well throw in a Purple Heart, Pulitzer and Palme d'Or, as a job lot.

Obama, no less than anyone else, presumably finds his decoration premature and unhelpful. But at least it does not disqualify him from some day achieving a retrospective eligibility. In contrast, Beckham's very best days are behind him. His performance as substitute against Belarus confirmed that he might remain equal to some sort of role for Capello. But that is neither here nor there, as regards Steve Bruce's fatuous decision to identify Beckham – who had barely been on the pitch for 25 minutes at the time – as man of the match.

Even Beckham seemed suitably embarrassed. Capello himself meanwhile proved unable to maintain the iron mask, surrendering to a wondering grin (wrongly diagnosed, on television, as one of overall satisfaction). Here, after all, is a man defined by an austere sense of footballing communion, one who might well dismiss the whole notion of a bottle of champagne for "man of the match" as so much froth.

Maybe that's the right thing to do in this instance, as well. It's just that some of the implications may not be commensurately trivial.

What of Bruce, for instance? He may never live this one down. Many of us had mistaken his for one of the game's more serious minds. But it is one thing for the Wembley crowd to persist in their infatuation with Beckham, whose mere emergence from the bench stimulates far more excitement than Theo Walcott skinning a full-back – an endeavour still farther beyond Beckham's competence nowadays, than it was in his pomp. Or for sycophantic television commentators to shed their self-respect like a burning codpiece. It is quite another for Bruce to suspend his own judgement as well.

When the time came for the Sunderland manager to elaborate his decision, a bewildered producer had managed to cobble together the four most flattering clips he could find. Three comprised the sort of passes "only Beckham" could bring to the party – those studied, don't-try-this-at-home arcs of fancy. Two of the three were easily picked up by the formidable Belarus defence; the third was not, but gave an isolated forward no real prospect of breaking through. Then, as the crowning glory, there was the awful, scuffed shot that somehow found its way onto the outside of the post. A man who can strike the ball so sweetly would himself only wince to see that again.

There were times when Beckham caught the eye, naturally. On a couple of occasions he brought down booming passes as though placing an infant into its cot. But there is no need to start treating a short corner, leading to a goal, as the sort of daring vision that exalts him above younger, scurrying legs.

The point here is not to rehearse the ratio between everything Beckham can do, and can't, or to ask whether he might warrant one more World Cup. Nor is it to debate his developing role as a substitute, where necessity has been the mother of invention (he looked pretty knackered after half an hour against Belarus, securely under lock and key as they were).

With Capello, these matters are in pretty safe hands. And they would also seem the only ones that count for anything. Why dignify Bruce with your attention, after he has proved too frivolous even for so inconsequential a bauble?

Well, here's why. Because he has shown us the kinship between the freedom to be brainless – a right cherished in any democracy with access to reality television – and the brainwashing we deplore in totalitarian societies. Because in endorsing the idiotic eschatology that anoints Beckham as the one, true messiah of British football, Bruce showed how insidious is the cult of celebrity.

In this case, as it happens, it is not such a big deal. But we saw, that same evening, what can happen – even in football – when things get out of hand.

After Argentina stifled a disappointing Uruguay team in their critical showdown, some may have felt disposed to give Diego Maradona the benefit of the doubt. They would only have done so warily, of course. Not so much because of the continued anonymity – or absence – under his supervision of some of the world's best players. But rather because he long ago found a grotesque foil, in his instincts off the pitch, for all the equilibrium and poetry of his own playing career. And his vile behaviour after the game will soon have extinguished any kindling hope for Argentina.

His appointment as manager surrendered the precious gifts of Lionel Messi and others to an unpredictable maniac. Translations vary, but Maradona's crotch-grabbing rage at the press in Montevideo was apparently strewn with all manner of unconventional suggestions for their mouths and anuses. It sounds no less deranged a performance than in the 1994 World Cup, when he rushed to a television camera after scoring against Greece, eyes bulging and mouth foaming. On that occasion, of course, he would fail a drugs test soon afterwards.

Celebrity, it seems, can be no less deadly an addiction. It is hard to imagine even the gorgeous talents available to Maradona proving able to stem his histrionics sufficiently to do themselves justice in the World Cup.

Fortunately, far less is at stake in our own obsession with Beckham. He seems a perfectly pleasant sort of cove. Still, nobody would have him down as a future Capello.

If Obama deserves a prize for anything, it is for restoring a bit of dignity to the processes of democracy. There is precious little, of course, in reality shows or gossip magazines. Famous people are good at some things, not at others. They are not amulets that can ward off all the malignant possibilities of this world.

We all need to remember that. Because however the masses deal with something as serious as football, they will be no different when it comes to something as trifling as a ballot paper.

Pompey remain uncomfortably in Harry's debt

Harry Redknapp returns to Fratton Park today confident that he can look after himself. Funnily enough, that is precisely what many fans of his old club would expect him to do.

There is no reason at all, of course, why Redknapp should have been expected to turn down a bigger job at Spurs. And Portsmouth fans preparing a hostile reception for their former manager should hesitate before abandoning the moral high ground, having been so revolted by abuse directed at Sol Campbell (right) when he played for them against Spurs. The monsters responsible for those chants imagined themselves to be punishing Campbell for an ancient apostasy, from White Hart Lane to Arsenal. So glass houses, and all that.

The clubs' relative fortunes since Redknapp's departure certainly imply him to be one of the more resourceful British managers. But then it is conceivable that more members of "his" Portsmouth team will start today for Spurs – in Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Nico Kranjcar – than for Paul Hart.

Resourceful is certainly the right word for Redknapp in the transfer market. He has spent so lavishly on strikers at Spurs that one of the world's best, Roman Pavlyuchenko, has been confined to half an hour of Premier League football this season.

And while Redknapp boasts about leaving Portsmouth with a great team worth millions of pounds, the club's predicament in the meantime – which saw almost all of those millions consumed by a black hole of debt – requires one qualification. Redknapp might not have spent huge transfer fees to build the team that won the FA Cup, but the wage bill was another story. For him to wash his hands of the Pompey debacle would duly be more than a little disingenuous.

Race begins to travel beyond the Sea

Though some of us suspect he might profitably have opened one last frontier, at the Breeders' Cup in California next month, it would be nice to think that Sea The Stars made plenty of new converts to the sport he bestrode until his retirement this week.

Racing's administrators are considering various proposals to make horseracing less arcane. Ultimately, however, nothing will do that job better than a colossus like Sea The Stars.

Those who have been intrigued could do worse than tune into the 2.25 at Newmarket today, live on Channel 4. The Dewhurst Stakes is a championship for novice horses, and a good winner would immediately become one of the favourites for next year's Classics. And just hear this, from two of the top trainers in Ireland.

Jim Bolger reckons Chabal his "best chance of winning the Dewhurst in the last five years". It is a pointed remark. Bolger won the race in 2006, 2007 and 2008 – including with a subsequent Derby winner in New Approach.

Back in the spring, however, the record-breaking Aidan O'Brien, pictured, was moved to the sort of language he seldom uses when asked about an unraced colt named Steinbeck. "The birds in the trees are singing about him," O'Brien said. Steinbeck was suitably impressive on his debut, but was subsequently held up by growing pains and has not been since. It should be a gripping sequel.

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