- WORLD CUP 2002

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Monday, May 13, 2002
England welcome back Beckham
By Jeff Powell

With the catalogue of England casualties growing longer than the National Health waiting list, the country hung with bated breath last night on word that King David had come through Queen Victoria's golden jubilation party without further mishap.

David Beckham
Beckham: England skipper
(David Beckham/Allsport)
Early reports from Beckingham Palace indicate that none of the mixed bag of A-list guests and corporate bingers have trampled on that fractured metatarsal.

Nor does it appear that any of the first couple's servants have accidentally dropped magnums of French champagne or flagons of Japanese sake on their master's fragile foot.

The English people, it seems, can heave a collective sigh of relief as huge as the one emitted when their beloved Becks narrowly missed stubbing his toe on the doorstep of No.10 while on his way to brief Prime Minister Blair on the Far East crisis.

So to Dubai, where the Beckhams will be drumming up support from Arab potentates for England's imminent invasion of the Land of the Rising Sun.

This week's manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf are expected to include a number of commercial activities designed to raise funds for the World Cup task force now assembling under the Anglo-Swedish command of Captain Beckham and General Eriksson.

This makes it all the more curious that agreement for Beckham's departure with the main body of troops should have been interpreted in some quarters as a victory for the England establishment over the House of Trafford.

Nobody is more aware of his importance to the strategies of marketing, merchandising and endorsement than the moguls in Manchester, who are having to guarantee £100,000 a week to bankroll His Majesty's new financial package.

The Beckham brand name is just as vital to the business deals at the core of the Football Association's expedition to the Orient as it is to the sales of all things United, at home and abroad.

Without the visible presence of English football's most prominent celebrity, profit projections would have to be revised drastically downward.

Which raises a nagging suspicion that Beckham would still have been embarking for all points East even if he had broken every bone in his left leg rather than one tiny one at its extremity.

Sir Alex Ferguson has let it slip on radio that he does not expect his boy David to participate in England's opening match against Sweden.

So United's manager must have been promised there will be no risk of aggravated damage jeopardising Beckham's fitness for the start of next season, otherwise be sure that treatment would be continuing in Manchester, not the desert.

There are unconfirmed suggestions that Beckham may have been slipping away for secret therapy with a mystery consultant whose laying on of alternative hands is said to have cured a number of high-profile sportsmen with chronic injuries.

That could explain why he is flying in the face of orthodox specialist advice to rest his wounded limb as much as possible and defying warnings from brother footballers who have endured the same injury that he should take his comeback gingerly for fear of breaking down again.

Who knows? As a young man who keeps himself in condition and lives clean, Beckham may have undergone a miracle cure already. We fervently hope so. If not, then doing the society rounds in London on a wonky foot and hosting a £350,000 bash at his stately home has to constitute the most bizarre convalescence in medical history.

Celtic and Rangers pursuing a dodgy route out

Celtic and Rangers might be advised to ponder longer and harder before rushing south to escape the repetitive monotony of Scottish football.

No doubt the Glasgow giants fancy they would be competing in the English Premiership within a year, there to be engaging Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool in mighty duels for Champions League places in Europe.

I f, therefore, they need telling that promotion to the Premiership is no cakewalk they have only to ask Wolves - a club steeped as deeply in history as their own but which remains mired in the First Division of the Nationwide League.

Trips to places like Molineux and Millwall next season would be highly instructive.

Not only that but if the rest of the Nationwide clubs can be persuaded to take the Scottish duo in, at risk to their own prospects of advancement, then it will be in their financial interests to keep them down there for as long as possible.

Rangers and Celtic could find themselves out of the Premier game for significantly longer than they fondly assume.

And for how many seasons do they suppose that visits from Rotherham and Gillingham would fill Ibrox and Celtic Park?

They have been warned.

Wenger doubles with Graham as champion boss

That Arsenal are worthy champions, not even Sir Alex Ferguson would deny. Although the Gunners signed off their third Double season with a cavalier flourish, it is not Saturday's seven-goal thriller against Everton which gives Arsene Wenger's class of 2002 their seal of authentication.

Much has been made of the difference between the pragmatism of Arsenal past and the French romanticism of Highbury present, yet the true comparison resides elsewhere.

It is not so much the manner of its winning but the place where the championship is decided which crowns the glory and in this respect George Graham's achievements remain very much up there with Wenger's.

Graham played in the Arsenal team which secured the League leg of the 1971 Double by winning at the White Hart Lane citadel of their nearest and fiercest enemies, Tottenham Hotspur, on a steamy May night which brought the north half of London to a gridlocked standstill.

Some 18 seasons later, Graham was manager when Arsenal went to Anfield needing a two-goal win to deprive Liverpool of the title and duly brought to a climax the most dramatic finale in the 100-year history of English League football.

Now Wenger can cherish for as long as he lives the immense satisfaction of completing Arsenal's unprecedented third Double by breaking Manchester United's stranglehold on the national game with victory at Old Trafford.

Ferguson knows how much that means. Which goes a long way towards explaining why he erupted into a four-letter fury the other day.

That outburst took place in the presence of grown-up journalists but some were quick to condemn his use of the vernacular even though the air in newspaper offices is often as blue as a pornographic movie.

Yet, Fergie's anger revealed the very quality in him for which seasoned observers had been searching since he reversed his retirement - that losing still hurts even for a man who has won so much.

That is why, even though Arsenal now reign, United are once again favourites to win next season's title. What the bookmakers know - especially his close friend Mike Dillon at Ladbrokes - is that it would pain Ferguson even more acutely were the pendulum of power in English football simply passing through London on its swing towards the deadliest of all United's northern rivals, Liverpool.



Jeff Powell

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