I won’t allow myself to feel old until the Pope starts looking young, but nevertheless there is the feeling of the end of an era today. What Beckham has announced today is his effective retirement. Around him, the United States MLS will find a sort of maturity, as the millions of young men playing football in North America begin to feed through into the professional clubs. Good thing too: it’s the third attempt at a professional league there, and what they have now is on a reasonably sound footing. The British will never accept that the United States is entitled to its own take on football, for all that our own has often worn a hideous face (no American Heysel, I notice) and Beckham won’t be able to change that. Let’s see if Google picks this up, that “soccer” is an English word, coined in response to its twin slang “rugger”.
I was sorry when Beckham lost his England place so close to 100 caps. I felt it was done out of cowardice rather than spite. If any England midfielder was to be dropped on the grounds of performance, then Beckham was hardly the main candidate. Beckham was a sacrificial goat, dumped to show that McClaren was “his own man.” What a horrible phrase that is, in that context. Dropping Beckham showed the complete opposite.
Michael Owen aside, who else has given more to the national team since 1998? Everyone can name great Beckham performances – can anyone name a Lampard one, or remember anything from Gerrard beside his goal in that 5-1 in Munich? To say nothing of his formidable highlights reel for Manchester United, and the suddenness of his absence after he left.
His failure to act the traditional English footballer – displaying that pre-eminent English heresy, an interest in fashion – has cost him every ounce of not-worth-having goodwill here. But it wasn’t long ago when his presence or absence in an England shirt was thought to be decisive – and he won that status the hard way. Enjoy America, David, and thanks for the memories:
Do we have to lose Mourinho too? I’ve flagged this possibility here before. But it seems to be coming closer now. If I were a Chelsea supporter, I’d be worried. What Mourinho has done at Chelsea – pull an effective team together from what was an expensive but disparate group – is not within the capability of many coaches. The Chelsea authorities are treating this man’s talent, his intelligence, his football knowledge, with a degree of contempt that is hard to believe.
If Peter Kenyon is serious about building Chelsea as a global brand, then he needs to recognise one central fact. Global football brands are all about successful football clubs. That means winning things. No amount of marketing, touring, website building (and I should know about that one), or whatever has half the impact of trophies. Nottingham Forest are still a huge name in football on the back of their two European Cups. Winning trophies for Chelsea means backing Mourinho. His successor isn’t going to be in the same trouble as the poor soul who eventually succeeds Ferguson at Manchester United, but he’ll still find himself in front of a group of players – especially the English ones – who’ll know that things, for them, will never be the same again.
Mourinho’s outspokenness is said to have lost Chelsea the friends they need if they are going to fulfil their G14 ambitions. If that’s the case, then those ambitions are in conflict with the need for actual football success. I suspect JM’s apparently random “outbursts” as having one big and deliberate purpose. They keep the focus of the headlines on him, not on his players. When things aren’t going well, it keeps the spotlight off them and reduces the pressure on them. The outbursts also serve to disturb their opponents’ concentration.
Should Mourinho leave, on the back of bad relations with his board, it will be a first in his career. He has always taken care to regard directors and other club officials as effectively part of the team, with whom his relations need careful management. A Ferguson or a Graham would always see the board as a problem – people with influence who knew nothing about football. That Mourinho isn’t getting on with the board now means that something substantial has gone wrong: Ballack? Shevchenko?
Chelsea’s loss, and English football’s loss, anyway. Here’s what I wrote about Mourinho in 2005.