Beckham looks abroad in long run

United's biggest asset favours move in two years, but club may cash in sooner
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The Independent Online

David Beckham has revealed that he is determined to market his exquisite football talents abroad, but intends to see out the remainder of his two-year contract with Manchester United first. Whether he eventually moves to the chic streets of Milan, or decamps to the Nou Camp in the wake of Arsenal's £30m duo, Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit, or indeed elsewhere within Serie A or the Primera Liga, sources close to the player say that he is anxious to prove himself within the elite of continental football.

David Beckham has revealed that he is determined to market his exquisite football talents abroad, but intends to see out the remainder of his two-year contract with Manchester United first. Whether he eventually moves to the chic streets of Milan, or decamps to the Nou Camp in the wake of Arsenal's £30m duo, Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit, or indeed elsewhere within Serie A or the Primera Liga, sources close to the player say that he is anxious to prove himself within the elite of continental football.

In two years' time he will be 27 and approaching the peak of his powers, so it would be a sensible move to depart then. Apart from the fabulous financial rewards, with Milan recently having offered United £35m for the player and reportedly prepared to offer him £31m over five years, his wife Victoria, aka Posh Spice, is known to covet a life abroad. It would also release the world's second best player from the verbal abuse that continues to assault him at every away game.

However, if Beckham maintains his planned course, it is likely to create further conflict between the England man and his manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The player is due to begin negotiations over a renewal of his contract this season, with United likely to offer him twice his current salary of £25,000 a week. Although neither Ferguson nor United would want him to leave, if Beckham insists that his future lies elsewhere, the club would be able to demand, and receive, in the region of £40m. But that must happen by the end of this season - in two years' time, he would become a free agent.

Despite an apparently deteriorating relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, which will hardly have been improved by revelations in the updated version of the manager's autobiography Managing My Life, those close to the player say that his love of the club and his loyalty to its supporters is a more powerful motivational force than any antipathy towards the United manager.

He would certainly not be forced out, as some reports last week have erroneously inferred is Ferguson's Machiavellian plot. The Sun headline "Why I had to dump Beckham" accompanied the serialisation of the latest extracts from Ferguson's book in which he explains his reasons for omitting Beckham from the United team that played at Leeds in a vital Premiership game in February. It happened after Beckham missed training, claiming his son was unwell. Ferguson writes: "The explanation that Brooklyn was unwell would normally have made me totally sympathetic. But when it was well known Victoria was out in London that Friday, I had to think David wasn't being fair to his team-mates." Ferguson continues: "It all made me blow up." The manager also declares his opposition to Beckham spending too much time at the couple's house in the South, insisting that their apartment in Cheshire should be his base.

Ferguson, as we all know, has never been averse to a bit of creative tension, both among his players and other managers. He would not have been unaware of the furore this latest episode would create, or its timing just before a new season. The manager has also ignored his own declaration at the time that the matter "is all over and won't be brought up again. I do not hold grudges".

Ferguson has not betrayed confidences or gone into lengthy detail about the incident; yet, the fact that he has given his opinion at all would be sufficient to antagonise most players. It is significant to note that similar revelations from the then England coach Glenn Hoddle on the circumstances of Paul Gascoigne not being included in his France 98 squad contributed to his eventual downfall. The difference is that the United manager is successful.

However, the question remains: why did Ferguson feel it necessary to reopen these, and indeed, other wounds? A large advance from his publisher would only partly explain his relish to reveal all. Could it be that Ferguson just felt the need to whop a few characters, like Norman Tebbit's leather-boy persona did to members of the Government in TV's Spitting Image, just to keep everyone on their toes. Chelsea chairman Ken Bates and Arsenal manager Arsÿne "whinger" Wenger are others in the new chapters who have incurred his displeasure.

It has been evident in the past that the United manager appears to relish operating in such a climate. The problem is that these are not rubber heads Ferguson is dealing with. His already fragile relationship with Beckham could become even more brittle, although one suspects that the player, who tends to react spontaneously to what he perceives as wrongs rather than responding with a sulk, will rise above it.

Nevertheless, Ferguson has ensured that the start of United's Premiership season in just 21 days' time will be even more intriguing than any of us might have imagined.

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