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By ESPN Staff

From Galáctico to Galaxy

Phew, what a weekend! Where do we start? Well, ok, let's get Becks out of the way. Since everybody and his dog has had their two pennorth, I guess I'd better have mine.

I wrote a book about Beckham a couple of years back, to cover his first year in Madrid, but the closest I got to the man himself was when a scheduled interview with him one afternoon was called off so that he could go and have that lovely tattoo etched onto his neck. He had flown out his personal tattooist from Manchester, as you do, so who was I to occupy his time? I even said I was prepared to sit there and chew the fat with him whilst he was being 'done', but it seems he wasn't too keen. Oh well, your loss Becks.

Anyway, almost three years further down the line, just as it appeared that he was about to go out with a whimper, he's come back with quite a bang. There's no point debating the issue of whether he should have gone to LA Galaxy or not, since it's now all done and dusted. But it's interesting that up to last Wednesday, for example, not one of the players at the Galaxy club was in the slightest bit aware of what was going on.

I have this from my deep-throat, who lives just down the road from the ground and who was chatting to one of the players only last week after a work-out in the gym. Maximum discretion (a Beckham hallmark) or more a case of the fact that Simon Fuller, the grand architect of all this, was still mulling over the offer from Milan?

Well maybe Posh was, because if other rumours are to be believed, some of Beckham's representatives even met a couple of Barcelona officials for a chat, when matters were still up in the air. A spent force? It would appear that several managers (or their bankrollers) didn't think so.

But the smokescreens of disinformation and conspiracy theories are also a part of the whole meaty issue, guaranteeing oodles of column inches and maximum tittle-tattle. And that's what it's all about really. It's not about the football, and it's not really about the money. The eternally interesting thing about Beckham is the way in which his moves impact on a cultural level - if that doesn't sound too pretentious.

I agreed to do the book about him on the condition that I could explore that particular avenue, because it was fascinating to see how Spain would react to him. His arrival and subsequent stay never disappointed, but it's run its course now, and he's off to the States, the perfect place for him really, at this juncture.

Beckham claimed that he was happy in Madrid and Spain, and he was telling the truth. But unlike his predecessor McManaman, he was never going to do his morning shopping at the butcher's, the baker's and the candlestick maker's, stopping off on the way home to banter with the neighbours.

Whatever happiness he's found, it's been behind the walls of his finca, with his kids, with the occasional visit from some of his team-mates, and the occasional glance at his Spanish Grammar book, lovingly presented to him by the British Council. Hollywood promises to be more of a social whirl, and the USA will suck him in, build him up even further, and probably not knock him down again, as they're prone to do in Europe. That's what's so nice about the Americans.

Or perhaps it's all just a Scientologist plot, engineered by his new friend and the cult's high-profile evangelist, Tom Cruise, whose wedding Capello did not allow Beckham to attend quite recently? Now that would be a coup. Becks and Posh join up. Don't bet against it. Whatever, the American league starts in April, at the moment without its most expensive recruit, but since Capello has now excluded the Englishman from his squad, he could probably turn out for them on loan, until his Spanish contract finally expires.

The really wicked whispers are that Beckham and his entourage engineered the whole thing anyway (his exclusion from the squad) since the risk of picking up a serious injury in the next few months would make his insurance company wince - the pay-out against a $250million contract being rather substantial, one would imagine. It would also put the spanner in the works of an awful lot of investors.

But that seems a bit far-fetched. It's a lot of money that both Beckhams stand to make, but they're rich anyway. They weren't about to hit Skid Row. The multi-national incarnate that Beckham has become means that an awful lot of people have a stake in him, and that stake has to be constantly renewed. That was unlikely to have happened at Bolton, with all due respect to that fine club.

In terms of how all this impacts on Real Madrid, the truth is that the issue of his exclusion (not the transfer) has split the country down the middle. I was in Santiago at the weekend, and everyone was talking about it. Back here in San Sebastian, and I've just come back from the bar after watching Madrid beat Zaragoza, people were still talking about it.

One chap with a scary moustache, who'd spent the game muttering darkly about Van Nistelrooy's inability to either control or pass the ball - Es un buitre, joder! Que se dedique a esto, y nada más! (He's a poacher, for God's sake. He should just stick to doing that!) then began to chat with the barman about Beckham (who'd just appeared on camera, sitting in the stands watching his mates play). 'I can't understand it!' he shouted. 'So Madrid need to clean out the old ones, and start from new. I can understand that. But to punish the guy like that is just nasty. It shows a lack of class. Beckham's alright. He's always worked his nuts off. The club's gone to the dogs. You can't treat people like that'.

Radomir Antic, writing in the tabloid 'AS' said something similar, qualifying the action as symbolic of a dying institution, one that no longer has the dignity to even know who its most loyal servants have been. And he has a point. Ronaldo's sullen and unpredictable behaviour over the past two seasons should have guaranteed his exit long before now, but now Beckham has been lumped in with the 'clean-up', which includes the troublesome Cassano - a most unholy trinity, since the Englishman's behaviour has been exemplary.

He even praised Capello as a manager last week and pledged that he would continue to fight for the cause, words that have been rewarded with a kick in the nether regions, further down than Ferguson's flying boot. It's true, of course, that Beckham has occasionally been required to ask permission to go and film some ad somewhere, or endorse a product, or whatever chaps like Beckham are required to do, but Real Madrid signed him precisely for that purpose, even grabbing 50% of his image rights - based on deals that Beckham had cut before he ever trod the Bernabéu.

Of course, his time at Madrid has coincided with a slump in form (not really his fault), six managers and plenty of crises, but it has also coincided with the club becoming the richest on Earth, in terms of marketing turnover. So now they've banked the money, it seems that they feel no loyalty to the man who played a large part in bringing it to them. Thanks David, now p*** off.

To imply, as Capello has, that Beckham's mind will solely be on his pending move, is to question the professionalism of a player who has always gone out and tried to do his best, despite the circus that surrounds him. Even Raúl, the most reluctant of his colleagues and the real Rasputin behind the throne - has admitted that much.

The Bernabéu rate Beckham, however much the tabloid Marca desperately publish daily (unsubstantiated) vox-pops which claim to support Capello's actions. The Bernabéu have always rated Beckham. They recognise his limitations, but they still know that he's the best passer in their squad, a player capable of bringing out the best in the rest. But like any other player he needs continuity. He can't perform in a bit-part role. When he's had continuity he's played just fine and he's a better player than he was at Manchester United.

I stick with the words of Jorge Valdano, who knows a thing or two about football. His mis-translated phrase, that Beckham 'strikes' the ball better than anyone since Maradona, was in fact 'Desde Maradona, nadie trata el balon como Beckham' (Since Maradona, no-one has had the touch that Beckham has) seems a good enough testament to me.

Anyway, Madrid won without him at the weekend, and there were hardly any mass demonstrations in his favour. Despite all the hullabaloo, the meringues are now level on points with Barcelona, for the first time in a blue moon. If Madrid start winning again on a regular basis - and they looked much better against Zaragoza, then all will be forgiven and forgotten. A couple of weeks is a long time in football.

Barcelona lost surprisingly at Espanyol, for whom ex-Culé Ivan de la Peña had an excellent game, as did Tamudo, the little striker who just keeps on banging them in. Barça still have key players out, but their defence looked as wobbly as a granny on her bike, and Espanyol always looked like scoring.

Even more surprisingly, leaders Sevilla slipped up 1-2 at home to Mallorca, a team who have been looking like relegation meat for some weeks now. The defeat was Sevilla's first at home since last February, and it'll be interesting to see how they react to it. Valencia continue to climb, and their 4-0 stuffing of neighbours Levante was their fifth win on the trot.

It's getting hot at the top, and next week marks the half-way stage of the season. One of three sides could be top next week, depending on how results go. Whoever it is, they'll be feeling that they can do more than just dream.

  • Phil is a published author of some repute and we're very lucky to have him here on Soccernet. If you want to own a real-life Phil Ball book, you can purchase either An Englishman Abroad, Beckham's Spanish Adventure on that bloke with the ever-changing hairstyle, White Storm, Phil's book on the history and culture of Real Madrid and his splendid and acclaimed story of Spanish football, Morbo.

  • If you've any comments for Phil, email the newsdesk