Date: 12th June 2007 at 12:38pm
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Once again David Beckham would appear to be the most talked about footballer on the planet after a recent resurgence in form for his club and a return to the England side. But how good a football player has Beckham actually been over the years?

It’s often said that English footballers tend to be overhyped by their hysterical media, just as the game down there as a whole tends to be due to the fantastic job that companies like SKY do to market the game all around the world. It’s a very cynical view, but in some ways I think the reason that they do this is to allow the media to crucify people when things go wrong. Just look at the ridiculous amount of pressure that someone like Wayne Rooney has on his shoulders these days. The guy is barely 21 years of age and yet the whole country expects him to run rings around the opposition practically every time he gets the ball. And when he doesn’t, as invariably he won’t most of the time, he gets slaughtered by the media and worst of all, the fans who have believed the ridiculous hype.

But Beckham is probably the best example of just how fickle the media can be. When he burst onto the Premiership scene in the mid-’90s, he was a young player with undoubted talent. He had bags of energy, passed and crossed with pinpoint accuracy and scored goals freely from his midfield berth. He was also doing so for the country’s most decorated club, so he quickly became a household name and an England international. Then of course, he married one of the most famous pop stars of the time, so naturally he became even more famous as a result of this, to the point of being pretty much the most famous man in the UK.

This was all well and good when Beckham’s on-field fortunes were smiling on him, but just remember the reaction to his red card in the ’98 World Cup. They could hardly wait to get their claws into the guy could they? Practically the whole of England were encouraged to turn Beckham into public enemy number one and the power of the media showed, because this is exactly what happened for a spell. I can’t imagine the hell that he had to go through for the next year or so after that World Cup. Every ground in the country became an instant cauldron of hate against him whenever United were in town (not that they are ever particularly welcome anywhere!) and it wasn’t safe for him to be out in public. All this because of one petulant kick at an Argentinian player who quite frankly deserved it? Very harsh.

Low and behold though, within a couple of short years Beckham was once again the golden boy of English football and by the time the next World Cup had come around, we were being told that he was one of the best, if not the best footballer in the world. And once again England believed it. Beckham had a pretty decent tournament in 2002, but ultimately England weren’t quite good enough and lost to eventual winners Brazil in the quarter-finals, something that Beckham managed to escape the longer knives for as the country had a new scapegoat in the shape of a middle-aged Swede!

This is kind of the way it has gone since then for Beckham: very rollerocoaster-like, with the latest twist seeing him once again being heralded as English football’s saviour. This comes barely a year after everyone telling us that he was finished, no longer having what it took to play football at the highest level and if he hadn’t played in the 2006 World Cup, England may still have won it. What a load of rubbish. He was one of England’s better players in that World Cup and the same people who were saying he was finished a year ago are now slaughtering Steve MacLaren, the new scapegoat, for ever binning him in the first place. It’s hypocrisy at its best and classic English gutter Press.

But when you try to assess David Beckham the footballer over his career, what do you see? Was he in fact one of the world’s best players, as some do genuinely believe? Or was he simply a better-than-average Premiership player who got lucky? I actually think he was much closer to the former than the latter. When someone is rated as one of the world’s best, too many people think that he’s going to be like Maradona and therefore should be the sort of player who would dribble past five players all the time. But Beckham was never this sort of player. His strengths were (and still are) his passing, vision and general influence on the team he was playing for. And when it came to these attributes, there were very few around at the time who were better. In fact even now, I think you’ll struggle to find a better crosser of the ball or set-piece taker anywhere.

Many people believe that the hype surrounding Beckham the brand has elevated his perceived footballing status to a level above Beckham the player, but I disagree. I actually think that many people UNDER-rate him because of this, taking the cynical view that he would never have moved to Real Madrid if he hadn’t been so famous outwith football. In other words, he wasn’t a good enough player to sign for the Spanish giants on his footballing merits alone. It’s perhaps a bit like people in an office saying that an attractive female executive is only where she is because of her looks!

But I wonder then, if Beckham is not such a great player, why it is that Real Madrid are now so desperate to hang onto him? Even Fabio Cappello their coach, who dropped him earlier in the season, has been forced to eat humble pie and admit that Beckham is a much better player than he gave him credit for. This is not something that happens very often. I think it’s unfair for people to say that ‘all he could do was cross a ball’. If that was the case he’d never have been such a key player for two of the world’s biggest clubs and a long-time captain of his country. He at least deserves to be recognised for these achievements.

I’m glad to see that David Beckham is back playing well for both club and country and hope that he’s still around for a few years yet.