Even Beckham talent at risk in the fame game

Wife's autobiographical revelations demonstrate the incompatibility of the values of showbusiness and the life of a professional sportsman
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The Independent Football

Even for a young man of sometimes stunning equability, it must have been at least a little deflating for David Beckham to come down from Mount Olympus at precisely the moment his wife was telling the nation about the day she smacked him in the mouth.

Nor can he have been massively thrilled by her recounting of how she squeezed his bottom, in full view of a pack of paparazzi, following a report that he had not kept his hands entirely to himself while in the company of another young woman of his acquaintance. The problem, she told readers of the Daily Mail at a rate of pay per word that would have thrilled F Scott Fitzgerald beyond belief around the time he was writing The Great Gatsby, was that the cameramen probably missed the "irony".

By yesterday morning, though, some of those dumb photographers might have noted an even more glaring incongruity.

It was that just a few days after being booed off a stage for miming and then wearing a false lip ring which reportedly sent small armies of teenagers trooping into body-piercing parlours, she was still comfortably outrunning her husband in column inches two mornings after he played arguably the game of his life.

Here we saw the supreme incompatibility of the values of showbiz and the life of a professional sportsman conducted properly.

Showbiz is mostly about the lifeblood of hype. Professional sport is about performance, authentic effort, hard repetitive work on the training field, sacrifice, discipline and a careful protection of talent. The talent of even a Beckham is not inexhaustible and in some cases it can be abused as much by distraction as an excessive lifestyle. This was one reason why the blood ran cold when Paul Gascoigne's terminal decline as a front-rank footballer, a blazing asset for the national team, was accompanied by statements of denial from such a luminary as the hard-living broadcaster Chris Evans, one of Gazza's closest "friends".

Equally, it is no doubt why the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, wished he had had the contractual power to force Beckham into an arranged marriage, with a girl from next door, when he first heard of his star's liaison with Posh Spice. That old desire of the manager must have certainly been re-kindled all over again yesterday when Posh also discussed publicly the night her husband paid off the security guard at United's team hotel, and drove through the night to placate his wife after another bout of disruptive headlines. The initiative of Becks, who apparently looked awful in shorts and flip-flops, was not a conspicuous success. "Finally, I just exploded," reports Posh, "and punched David in the face. He was entirely blameless, but I just couldn't put it out of my mind."

It is probably idle to imagine that Beckham, as a result of personal initiative or advice from outside the publicity apparatus through which so much of his life appears to be processed, could at the prime of his career step away from those demands which come when you are as much a hugely marketed commodity as a supremely gifted sportsman. But there are certain truths which no one can avoid without peril.

The most pressing in Beckham's case is that he has accepted huge responsibility with the captaincy of England and that, together with his obligations to Manchester United, he faces challenges which would test the strongest of wills. Last season he undoubtedly faltered to the point where Ferguson "rested" him from the team. Whatever the explanations, the reality was that his performance for United had tailed off alarmingly. Rightly or wrongly, the tempting conclusion was that his being such a potent weapon in an endless showbiz publicity drive had taken something of a toll.

At this early stage of a new season there is certainly no cause for fresh alarm. Beckham was superb in Munich as England powered their way to an historic victory over Germany. He was at his absolute best when it mattered most, which was just before and after half-time, when the vital, crushing blows were delivered by Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen. Both of the key goals had flowed from Beckham's determination to impose his skill. It was an effort guaranteed to brush away the criticism that on some occasions his show is more than his substance. Indeed, it carried intimations of greatness of ambition and commitment and it gave England a dimension that the Germans lacked utterly.

Posh's paymaster newspaper yesterday asked if she and Beckham were the Richard Burton and Liz Taylor of the 21st Century – or the embodiment of the shallow celebrity-obsessed age in which they live? The truth is that they are both. The worrying symmetry is that Richard Burton was a greatly talented actor cheapened by the demands of excessive fame. After his performance in Munich, the worry is that Beckham, a potentially great footballer, might just be consumed by a similar fate.

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