The Shattering of the Beckham Fairy Tale

By Paul Gardner

Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, the soccer gods turned on David Beckham, and cut him down while he was doing the very thing at which he was supposed to be divinely inspired: playing soccer.

In a flash, the Beckham myth crumpled. Done in by the greatest mythical figure the Greeks had, the warrior Achilles. Or at least, by his tendon.

But the tragedy that overtook Beckham -- and for him it was certainly that -- is hardly a tragedy of Greek dimensions. That would need grandeur before the fall, and, sadly, there has been so little of that lately in Beckham’s life.

Rather the opposite, as Beckham has slavishly devoted himself to pleasing the England coach Fabio Capello, in the hope of making the England World Cup team. During that pursuit, Beckham has not behaved well. He has put his personal ambitions ahead of his commitments to MLS and the Los Angeles Galaxy. In fact, he has done little for either the league or the club, despite the encomiums that MLS Commissioner Don Garber is wont to deliver from time to time.

Now Beckham’s dream is shattered -- even to the point where a question mark must hang over his future career as a player. Again, the myth of Achilles comes to mind, the invulnerable warrior . . . and surely we had enough warning that Beckham’s view of his own invulnerability, like Achilles’, was a dangerous misjudgement.

Remember his first year with the Galaxy -- the jet flights to Europe and back, his certainty that he could simply step off the plane and take the field for the Galaxy? He tried that, it didn’t work. The injuries piled up, the pallid performances likewise.

But the 30-plus Beckham continued to behave like a 20-plus edition. He certainly looked the part, for he is blessed with boyish good looks. But his body . . . what was that thinking?

Which is where I have some questions about the injury that has just made a mockery of Beckham’s hopes.

I’ll start with this. Of all the people in the world -- all 6.8 billion of them -- I would think that David Beckham must be right near the top, if not at the top, of those receiving or having access to, the best in medical attention, the sort of care designed to make sure that he has a perfectly functioning body.

So how is it that he can suffer this disastrous -- but surely predictable, and maybe avoidable -- injury? Where were all the medical personnel, the doctors and the physios and the sports medicine specialists and heaven knows how many more there are of these guys in L.A. and Milan -- where were they when it mattered?

Are we asked to believe that it is absolutely impossible to predict that an Achilles’ tendon is weakening? Or that it has, maybe, some sort of slight tear or injury that needs to be rested and treated? Is it really believable that a fully normal, healthy tendon can suddenly snap, as Beckham’s did, from the slightest of exertions?

It seems there are no such doctors as tendon specialists -- at least, I haven’t been able to track down any tendonologists, or tendinologists either. Given the seriousness of an Achilles’ tendon injury to an athlete, this seems rather odd.

As far as Beckham is concerned, there is also an age question. No doubt he is, or was, in pretty good shape for a 30-plus soccer player. And it is certainly not unheard of for athletes to prolong their playing careers as long as possible. So we move into an area that still has no convincing answer: How many games a year is the right number for a pro player? More the point, how many are right for an aging pro? And crucially, if those games involve repeated long-distance flights, if they mean virtually no rest period in a year (all this, ironically, in the pursuit of “fitness”) -- then how many games are we talking about?

Already, in 2007, Beckham’s schedule, overloaded with the extra games he played for England, was a problem. I wrote then that the Galaxy “has capitulated before his [Beckham’s] undoubted charm” -- because it seemed to me that no one at the Galaxy was willing to tell him that his chief responsibility was now to the Galaxy, and that “no one dared to contradict him.”

Even so, a glimmer of reality reached Beckham toward the end of his first Galaxy season, when he picked up yet another injury and remarked “Maybe it’s time for me to say I need a rest . . .” But that was before AC Milan beckoned.

Right there, three years ago in his very first season, there was clear evidence that injuries were becoming a major problem for Beckham. But with the loan moves to Milan, his schedule was simply allowed to become even more frantic.

Where were the Galaxy and the Milan medical staffs when Beckham was pushing himself beyond the limit? Well, maybe they were heard from -- if so they were ignored. No doubt because whatever Beckham wanted, Beckham got.

Now it has all ended in tears, Beckham’s tears in the San Siro stadium as he forlornly accepted that his body had finally rebelled and that he would not be going to South Africa. I am not about to mock Beckham, for his disappointment must be enormous. I said earlier that there was no grandeur to this sad story -- indeed, it is more like a fairy tale than a Greek tragedy. There has always been something Peter Pan-ish about Beckham, it was a major source of his great charm. But, of course, it was an unrealistic vision. Now, Beckham can no longer maintain his vision of himself as Peter Pan, eternally youthful, eternally free of fitness problems. That notion has gone forever.

It was one that his advisors, the Galaxy management, and certainly all the highly trained medical personnel at his disposal, should have dispelled. But Beckham was allowed to continue playing the part until last Sunday, when the enchantment of the fairy tale suddenly vanished forever. As fairy tales are apt to do in an adult world.

9 comments about "The Shattering of the Beckham Fairy Tale".
  1. T michael Flinn, March 17, 2010 at 10:06 a.m.

    I think you are harsh on Beckham in this article. Beckham played this game with passion. And in the particular game that he was injured in, I thought he played well. No man can predict when his achilles will rupture.

  2. John M Cote, March 17, 2010 at 10:11 a.m.

    I feel very bad for Beckham. Say what you will Paul, but he is a very good role model for youth players. You are right that he may have overdone it and the result is indeed unfortunate.
    I hope he has some kind of team role for the World Cup.

  3. Eric Young, March 17, 2010 at 10:59 a.m.

    Despite what has occured, I would still like to point out the true tragedy here. Beckham, who is so rich--he would probably consider 1000 dollar inside his couch, "loose change," has cheated the very people who adored him--Galaxy Fans who bought tickets just to see him. He has almost consistently thumbed his nose at his Galaxy Fans in his own selfish pursuits. Yes, I think he played as best as he could last year for the Galaxy--but it was only after the horrible press he got from the book published about him. I think he would have played far worse last year if that book had never seen the light of day.

    And now, with this injury, he will be able to not only cheat Galaxy Fans--he will succeed in cheating AEG and MLS.

    In hindsight--given how tiny and selfish his human heart is--it is amazing he has had a career in a sport that relies on heart.

    Full disclosure--obviously I am a Galaxy Fan and there is easily some dissapointment here. But to be honest, I am a Galaxy Fan becuase I want to look back and be able to say I saw Donovan Play. I quit going to Galaxy Games to see Beckham after his first season and after his mean spirited remarks on his first venture to AC Milan.

    Good luck rich man

  4. Cristian Deseanu, March 17, 2010 at 12:46 p.m.

    Even if most of the time I agree with you, when it comes about Beckham I have to say that you are wrong! Terrebly wrong! You just can't see the big picture! As Achilles is a mythical God, Beckham is a God of soccer! We only can be disapointed that he's not gonna be present at the World Cup! The show that new stars as Messi, Ronaldo and Roney are gonna put, is going to be incomplete without Beckham presence!

  5. Ted Westervelt, March 17, 2010 at 1:45 p.m.

    One fairy tale over. Now let's address the one in which MLS is permanently entitled to first division status, and uses it to impose mediocrity on all of their clubs in order to randomize match outcomes.

    It's straight out of Mother Goose.

  6. Barb Freund, March 17, 2010 at 2:06 p.m.

    Overall, Beckham has been a good role model for young soccer players. Yes, he may have had some negativity while with the Galaxy, and he may have spread himself a little too thin, but he's still a great athlete. Everyone in the US knows who he is and why he had come to the US to play. Since then there have been several new MLS stadiums built. More and more people are going to soccer games. Now, we have to continue with the publicity not only at the MLS levels but the high school levels. Rarely do I see soccer scores in a local paper. I do, however, see football, baseball and basketball scores. As for David Beckham--I hopes his tendon fully recovers because I would still pay to see him play especially at a Crew game!!

  7. Nicolae Popescu, March 17, 2010 at 2:52 p.m.

    Paul.....I am sorry for this article because you write good ones most of the time. This one is just pure criticizm and it seems to me that you never played high level soccer in order to understand an injury of this degree.
    You can never predict an injury. You might have an idea of something bad may happen if you don’t treat this NOW. In Beckham’s case is something that no one saw it coming. I played soccer myself and I just tore my right Achilles tendon about 3 weeks ago and I swear to you that I never have imagined an injury like that could happen to me. I played in college on a full athletic scholarship and I am most of the time fit. This injury is more common in basketball players then in soccer players but the reality about it is that it could HAPPEN TO ANY ONE ANY WHERE. I am sorry for Beckham and I know that mentally is demolished because of the history that he could have make at the next world cup. He is a marketing player but when he is on the field he does his best and plays hard all the time. Have a speedy recovery although I know for sure that it will be 6 months.

  8. Paul Cox, March 17, 2010 at 3:16 p.m.

    I agree- I think you screwed up on this one. Not on Beckham's treatment of MLS and the Galaxy, but in terms of the scolding for the injury.

    Achilles injuries are notoriously random, almost always very harsh, and to try and link what happened to Beckham with his running to/fro playing for the Gals, then AC Milan, then England... that's too much.

    If Achilles injuries could be predicted and stopped, there surely wouldn't BE any, right? And yet, they still happen.

    How many "extra" games did he actually play compared with a normal world-class player? He played games with his club (whichever one that was) and games with his national team. How is that so wrong?

    Oh, but he split time between two clubs that were on different schedules (fall/winter/spring, spring/summer/fall) and THAT had him playing far more thna a "regular" player, right?

    No, not really. He had time off between each season, partly from injury and partly from simply transitioning between the two.

    The reality is that Beckham is an ass on a lot of levels, for a lot of reasons- but this injury is hardly a case of karmic revenge, or the Soccer Gods striking him down.

    It's just a plain, old, random, harsh Achilles tear. Nasty injury, possibly career-ending at his age, but certainly nothing you can blame on overuse or too many airplane flights or whatever.

    The Galaxy have nothing to whine about- if they didn't want to risk him getting hurt playing for someone else, they shouldn't have loaned him out.

    The reality is that Beckham went down doing something that's actually fairly noble- trying to continue playing at a high enough level that he could then make it to his nation's team.

    I don't like the guy, but I can't scold him for that- and shame on you, Paul, for letting your own feelings for him affect your sense of soccer reality.

  9. Bryan Bundy, March 18, 2010 at 12:57 p.m.

    Paul Gardner. You probably didn't even sleep the night after this happened you were so happy. All you ever do is trash Beckham every chance you get. If you were twice the man you could be, you would only be about 1/10th the man Beckham is and has done for this sport. Write articles about soccer, and help the sport. Don't write the trash you did in this article. May the "soccer gods" strike you down permanently, as you are doing nothing for the sport with this type of article, and shame on SoccerAmerica for publishing it!!! They are doing nothing for the sport either by publishing your trash. I teach my players and kids to have respect for eveyone they come in contact with in life, and I will share this article wtih them to show them an example of the Pinnacle of disrespect!!!

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