James Lawton: Beckham's feet must do talking

David Beckham is not the first foreign celebrity player to be sent off in Spain for calling a match official a "
hijo de puta" but this shouldn't lull us into a dismissive shrug. This from the vastly celebrated but currently hapless England captain was rather more than a slip of the tongue.

David Beckham is not the first foreign celebrity player to be sent off in Spain for calling a match official a " hijo de puta" but this shouldn't lull us into a dismissive shrug. This from the vastly celebrated but currently hapless England captain was rather more than a slip of the tongue.

Some translations here rendered the phrase down to the relatively benign "sonofabitch", which of course in America can be almost playful, as in "howyadoin' you ol' sonofabitch". But try that in the Spanish-speaking world and you would be best off wearing a bullet-proof vest.

Hijo de puta permits only one interpretation. It means "son of a prostitute" and saying it on a football field is to guarantee you are either engulfed by a profoundly insulted opponent or dismissed by an official. Either way, it is an act of mind-spinning stupidity. For the record, Beckham's fate befell Diego Maradona in Barcelona in 1982 when playing for Argentina against Brazil.

However, Maradona was 21 at the time and widely seen as a brilliant but problematic son of the slums of Buenos Aires. He hadn't been captain of his country for years and lauded as an inspirational field general.

Another difference shouts out. For Maradona there would be plenty of redemption, not least as a 25-year-old who won a World Cup as near to single-handedly as was humanly possible. Four years on, when he was 29 - the same age as Beckham is today - Maradona carried a threadbare Argentina into another World Cup final in Rome. When all this is considered it is impossible not to return to the old question: what, in the end, will Beckham's career amount to beyond a mountain of publicity?

The Real Madrid president Florentino Perez's body language was thunderous when Beckham was shown a red card, for a second time this season, on Saturday early on in another defeat, this time against ill-considered Murcia.

Inevitably, this will strengthen suggestions that Beckham will return to England, and almost certainly Chelsea, at the end of a season in Spain that, both on and off the field, can now only be described as catastrophic.

It would be tedious to go over all the old ground of the Chelsea possibility after so many weeks of speculation, but in the light of still another Beckham controversy - and on a day when Sven Goran Eriksson was announcing his English fighting force for the European Championship in Portugal - there is one pertinent area of debate. It centres on the quality of leadership we can expect from Beckham.

The uncomfortable fact is that if we put on one side the supreme moment of Beckham's England captaincy - when he sent in that late free-kick against a lowly-ranked but obdurate Greece at Old Trafford three years ago during World Cup qualification - the record is hardly likely to create a groundswell of confidence.

Before he got the job, which he touted for with great energy, he had done well to outgrow the appalling lapse of judgement which saw him sent off for a childish lunge at an Argentinian opponent in the World Cup in 1998. But since his appointment the marks of true distinction - and significant leadership - have been disappointingly few.

In some ways his second World Cup was as unfortunate as his first. Clearly not fully fit, he provided a corner for one goal and then converted a penalty against Argentina in the group games.

But in the quarter-final against Brazil, who up to that point had struggled - at times desperately - England became a leaderless rabble in a second-half performance that remains grimly unforgettable for its lack of both enterprise and fight.

Sometime later, Beckham admitted that England left the half-time dressing-room with "nothing left", a sad admission from a captain so widely lauded for his determination to beat the odds and who, disastrously, had jumped out of a tackle immediately before the Brazilians scored the goal that put them back into the game - and on course to win their fifth World Cup.

More recently, Beckham was missing from one qualifying game for the European Championship - against Slovakia - because of suspension, one earned in part by an amazingly reckless performance against Turkey in Sunderland, when despite disturbances on the terraces which spilled on to the field - and which threatened England's place in the tournament - he ran into the arms of an already turbulent crowd to celebrate the conversion of a penalty.

Fortunately, in Beckham's absence - he was on a brand-developing tour of America at the time - his deputy, Michael Owen, who said quite pointedly before the game that he much preferred to see his name on the back rather than the front page, had the professional wit to win a decisive penalty.

All this will no doubt be forgiven if Beckham, rejoicing in his liberation from a long and doubtless painful trial in his football and his life in Madrid, can provide the leadership of England for which in the past he has perhaps been overgenerously credited.

Certainly his latest pratfall in Spain should underline one overwhelming reality. It is that the time has come to put away the platitudes, however publicity friendly, and deliver some overdue performance.

Fracas at Old Trafford turned tide for Arsenal

For a little while at least, Arsène Wenger, by right of conquest and a unique and beautiful achievement, can say more or less anything he likes. He is even permitted an assertion that in some ways Arsenal's unbeaten Premiership season can be placed above triumph in the Champions' League.

Much less contentious, though, when you consider the Premiership's huge division in competitive standards, is his selection of Old Trafford, 21 September, as the turning point in the title run. For what reason, however, does the Arsenal manager make his claim? He suggests that it was because Ruud van Nistelrooy's controversial late penalty smacked against the cross-bar and cost United two points and momentum in the early going of the championship.

Another, and better guess is that the real significance of that day came later, when Wenger and his players were not only hit by FA punishment for the disgraceful scenes that followed the Van Nistelrooy miss but also admonished by their own chairman.

Wenger was finally called to account by his boardroom for his refusal to face up to the one weakness of his brilliant regime - a dogged refusal to acknowledge that no team was so good it could indefinitely ignore the need for proper discipline.

In the weeks that followed even the chief culprit Martin Keown publicly admitted that Arsenal had gone too far beyond an acceptable line.

Result: a superb consistency and spirit from a team whose artistry and vision became a source of unbroken delight. Yes, unquestionably Old Trafford was a turning point. It was the time when Arsenal were suddenly obliged to grow up.

Ferguson uses public convenience

When Sir Alex Ferguson granted a rare interview to his favourite Sunday newspaper at the weekend he made it clear that he would set the agenda.

No questions on John Magnier or David Beckham, just the chance to say that Rio Ferdinand's decision not to appeal his dead-to-rights conviction for missing a drugs test probably cost United the title, give his version of the Roy Keane controversy and make public the depth of his hots for Liverpool's Steven Gerrard.

However much you admire Ferguson's achievements, it is hard not be outraged by his rejection of any sniff of public accountability. The Premiership meekly goes along with his refusal to talk after a game to anyone other than a representative of the house television channel. A self-respecting league simply wouldn't allow it.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas