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Offside, 22 April

It's Beckham's ball-control on the pitch that matters.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

Did David Beckham really **** Rebecca Loos? And did the ‘sleazy senorita’ ****** David’s ****? Was it cos Posh is too thin or did he fancy a bit of proper posh? Frankly, I couldn’t give a ****.

The staggering number of column inches devoted to the Beckhams’ marital problems is testimony to the couple’s über-celebrity status. David Beckham, when he is not attending showbiz parties or arranging stage-managed photo-ops for the paparazzi, also happens to be a professional footballer. However, the last place you’ll find any discussion of his alleged infidelities is on the terraces.

No football fan I’ve spoken is particularly bothered about what Becks gets up to off the pitch. Of course, we’ll try to wind him up with bawdy terrace chants about his wife’s sexual preferences but we’re not really interested his private life. Leave that to the women, gays and Japanese schoolgirls who idolise him. And if Beckham wants to dress like a New York rapper or a Latin pimp or a Hoxton creative or a Thai ladyboy, well, that’s his business. As long as he delivers the goods when he’s wearing the England shirt it really doesn’t matter to us.

But Beckham’s public image or, to be more precise, his ‘brand’, is the source of considerable debate in the media. Never mind his marriage or his football career what is really at stake, we are told, is the potential damage to Beckham’s brand value. The footballer’s income from endorsement and sponsorship deals is reportedly worth £10 million a year. No other footballer can brand it quite like Beckham. And no media story on Beckham’s love life is complete without a quote from a branding expert on how the allegations will affect Beckham’s marketing capability.

‘A large percentage of his earnings are derived from the Far East and North America, where such alleged indiscretions are viewed far more seriously, and so this is potentially damaging’, warned John Allerton of Interbrand. ‘Family values and ethics are more important to Americans…. The bad publicity generated by the allegations against David does disadvantage the Beckhams’ onslaught on America’, said Stephen Cheliotis, brand liaison director at Superbrands.

However, other brand experts disagreed. ‘I think that consumers care less about marital infidelity than the editor of the News of the World’, said Robert Phillips of Jackie Cooper PR. ‘In the short term this further fuels Beckham mania’. Mark Borkowski of Borkowski PR believes that brand Beckham will not be affected. ‘If it is proved to be true then what it will show is the immense pressure that celebrities like him are under’, said Borkowski. ‘If it is proved to be a lie then he becomes a martyr and [his experience] will put all celebrities in a strong position to say that this is what they have to put up with’.

What Becks makes of this debate is anyone’s guess. The footballer’s public persona is so carefully managed by his PR advisers that nobody knows what David Beckham himself really thinks about anything. As other cultural commentators have remarked, Beckham’s shyness and inarticulacy effectively makes him a tabula rasa on to which we project our own preoccupations and prejudices.

Modern footballers are widely perceived to be overpaid mercenaries. Last week, for example, disgruntled Real Madrid fans unfurled a banner at the club’s training ground that read: ‘For you whores and money. For us indignation and repression.’ While Beckham does not have a reputation as a mercenary or a playboy, he is seen as more of a marketing operation than a footballer. Real Madrid’s acquisition of the England captain was widely interpreted as a means of extending the club’s merchandising reach in the Far East. It came as a surprise to the Spanish sporting public to discover that Beckham could actually play a bit too. ‘We were expecting a clothes horse avoiding getting kicked, a pretty boy worried about his ponytail, but Beckham is tireless’, enthused Juanma Trueba in the Spanish sports daily AS.

David Beckham has said that he wants to be remembered as a great footballer. Ironically, this is one facet of his public image that his brand managers can do little to influence. George Best once said of Beckham that ‘He can’t kick with his left foot. He doesn’t score many goals. He can’t head a ball. And he can’t tackle. Apart from that he’s all right’. This is a view shared by football pundits and fans alike. The biggest struggle confronting Beckham is not to preserve his brand but to convince his doubters that he is worthy of comparison to soccer’s legends. In my view, no matter how many giant chocolate statues of Beckham they build in Japan, he will never hold a candle to the fat, 43-year old Argentine who is currently lying in a Buenos Aires clinic.

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Topics Politics

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