The Beckham Delusion

By John Cartwright

Prior to the game between PSG and Barcelona at the Parc des Princs stadium, the ITV presenter Adrian Chiles, against a background of the Eiffel Tower said, “ there you see the second most famous edifice in Paris tonight, the other is David Beckham starting for PSG”………!


In the first game against Barca. he did very little of any consequence other than receive a Yellow Card before being subbed and in the return game at the Camp Nou he was not selected to start but on his late inclusion to the game he again did nothing and received a second Yellow Card. In comparison, a true football great – Messi, scored in the first game and although still recovering from an injury received in Paris, still came on late in the second game and was instrumental in Barca’s equalizer that qualified them for the semi-final of the Champions’ League

The pedestalling of Beckham as a football ‘great’ by all sections of the media here is a slap in the face to all of the truly great players over the years. George Best, was more to the point with his famous quote on Beckham when he said, “ he cannot kick with his left foot; he cannot head a ball; he cannot tackle and he doesn’t score many goals. Apart from that he’s all right.”  Yes, as Best so accurately describes Beckham ……… he’s all right!

Those of us who have been fortunate to see real greatness on the football fields around the world stand amazed at the ‘hyped’ euphoria surrounding Beckham;  from – Matthews, Finney, Puskas, Garrincha, Pele, De Stefano, Platini, Beckbauer, Moore, Cruyff, Best, Maradona to Ronaldo and Messi today – it is their all-round, outstanding football ability that sets them above all others; this is not the case with Beckham, where supplementary adornments have elevated his basic football ability to unrealistic heights. To place Beckham, alongside the true immortals of the game is a clear indictment of the huge level of mis-information and ‘hype’ that infests our game.


It seems as though anyone who questions Beckham’s playing ability is deemed an idiot; what is even more disturbing is that there seems to be a concern by many to question Beckham’s playing quality for fear of losing ones credibility. There is a guise in marketing – ‘promote something often enough and eventually it will be believed; one has only to see the use of advertising today where the use of constant repetition eventually brings automatic acceptance irrespective whether correct or not by people in general.

The use of ‘hype’ in various forms to project a personality or a product etc. is rampant in all areas of life today; from politics to football ‘hype’ moulds mediocrity and pronounces it as good or even great.  The use of ‘hype’ in football to cover mediocre standards and then to suggest that they are extra special can only lead to a demise in the achievement levels sought by others. True quality must be recognized and promoted for what it is no matter what the product, – be it the performance of a furniture polish or the ability of a footballer! Our young players who see ordinary ability and are told this is good or even great, are being mis-lead to such an extent that mediocrity has become their vision to achieve.

I applaud Beckham’s inspirational, off the field qualities and I agree that he  has become a fine ‘ambassador’ for the game in general, but that does not mean that public relations should outweigh playing ability when it comes to qualifying as one of football’s greats.  I stand up and say, like George Best, Beckham was an ‘all right footballer’, but don’t try to convince me that he’s special and certainly not a ………football legend!

17 thoughts on “The Beckham Delusion

  1. You talk about a bandwagon but you are getting on the same bandwagon that means you either hype or attack Beckham.

    Let’s get one thing clear. Beckham is a great player. That is shown by the facts. He has played and done well for the best teams in the 3 best leagues in Europe (football does exist outside England!) and now is at the best team in Europe’s 5th league. He played 115 times for England. He was voted Real Madrid Player of the Year in 2005/6 despite being surrounded by some of the greatest players of his generation including Zidane and the year after he was crucial player in them clinching the league. Renowned coach Carlo Ancelotti chose to start him, at 38 years of age, in a Champions League quarter final against the best team in the world (or is Ancelotti overrated as well?)

    I have never heard anyone with any knowledge of the game putting Beckham in the same bracket as Matthews, Finney, Puskas, Garrincha, Pele, De Stefano, Platini, Beckbauer, Moore, Cruyff, Best, Maradona, Ronaldo and Messi. Did you just pretend they had so you could attack him?

    A lot of the praise Beckham receives is for his charisma and, as you say, for being a fine ambassador for the game rather than being one of the greatest ever footballers in the history of the game. This not to deny though that he has been a top player with excellent technical and intelligent players (Yes he can’t use his left foot but Rivaldo couldn’t use his right but he was an incredible player).

    I’m sure if you had developed a player that had Beckham’s success you would be very proud.

    Beckham’s popularity has led many people of much less accomplishment to attack him.

  2. I am not sure there are too many of us who would put Beckham in the same class as Pele, Best, Zidane etc. He is admired for his passion for the sport, the fact that he gives his all and is a genuinely nice guy. He does have a great cross, good free kick and that is about it really. He has been a great ambassador for football and has had a great career, but as far as his playing ability he is a good player, nothing outstanding. Would he have been so famous had he not have met Victoria, meeting her at the height of her fame was the reason why he became so famous.

  3. I am actually a big fan of David Beckham. From coping with the madness that surrounded the season following his sending off in the 98 World Cup, to developing his status as a global ambassador for the game and promoting his brand image as he matured as an individual. His effort on the pitch and his reported dedication to practice to make the most of his ability are all traits to be admired. It has been wrong to state he cannot kick with his left foot, he absolutely can, but you would not describe him as ambidextrous.
    All that said, I agree with the assessment that he has been over-hyped as a “great” player.
    He has been (and still is) a good professional and has pretty much given full application for the teams for which he has played.

    He has been a team player whose effort and application has rarely been in question and he understands the game and how best to affect it with the skills at his disposal. Again though, that doesn’t make him a great, it makes him, probably, a very good professional.

    All that said, the hype is not necessarily down to him. I’m not sure why we have to hype everything so much these days. I was privileged to see George Best play live on a number of occasions and whilst it’s an interesting debate as to whether his lifestyle curtailed what he might have achieved, there is no doubt that he was a great player.

    Another truly great player is Lionel Messi but now we have a ludicrous sort of reverse hype with people decrying Barca as a “one man team” because he came on late in the quarter final the other day and had a major influence on the goal that took them to the semis.

    In the 60s and 70s we were fortunate to have a few ball players, Best, Marsh, Worthington at the same time. But the truly great players have always come along around once every career with an occasional overlap.

    We should celebrate the TRUE greats, be thankful that owing to TV we can now all see them play and recognise the good pros for what they are. But over hyping diminishes the qualities of both the TRUE great and the good professional.

  4. Agree, been rowing against the tide on all things Beckham for years. Yes, he is a nice guy but there are plenty of nice guys. What is very short supply however are truly great players & no they are not all nice guys. Messi though is both, it appears. Should young players look up to Beckham? Maybe,but they should aspire to be better than him & do some of the things that Beckham can’t do, which as George Best rightly pointed out is quite a lot. Beckham in my estimation is a miracle of modern marketing.

  5. Great blog again John!

    I for one have never ever rated Beckham a good player let alone a great player. One thing I am not sure of though is I don’t actually know if he is a NICE GUY. I have never met him, spoken with him, spent time with him or got to know him over a period of time! It mystifies me how so many football fans and non football fans say he is a nice guy!

    Considering the esteem he holds in the sport, it would be great if he could drive a revolution in changing and improving grassroots for football in England. However I don’t know if this would be positive for the Beckham branding.

    As a player he was/is:
    – unable to run with the ball
    – unable to dribble
    – unable to unbalance defenders in 1v1’s with trickery
    – unable to perform turns
    – unable to play penetrating passes on the floor that could dissect a defense
    – poor and often a malicious tackler where there WAS/IS intent to hurt the opponent (fight football)
    – unable to play in tight spaces or against teams that were well organized with 8-10 men behind the ball

    Yes he crosses the ball very well, scored some wonderful free kicks and takes very good corner kicks on a consistent basis.

    However I also think there was/is a myth over his crossing. Because he always delivered excellent crosses when he was given TOO MUCH time and space (often against poor opponents or on the counter attack). Whenever he was denied space on the pitch he proved to be very very very limited and ultimately lacked SKILL!

    Johan Cruyff once said “that if you give a player time and space, they will ultimately look world class”

    In my opinion a truly great footballer or world class player is able to perform a variety of creative skills in tight spaces against well organized defenses with 8-11 men behind the ball in high pressure games. In this country we place too many footballers even some of the foreign players on a pedestal, we label players as great and the term world class is thrown way too often. If Beckham is regarded as great then there is danger that he becomes the benchmark! Do we want to produce players like Beckham, Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard? If we use these players as the standard we will continue to produce players who lack craft, creativity, skill, guile, flair and spontaneity!

    David Beckham holds this country’s footballing youth back!

  6. The big guns Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the like WOULD NOT give their ‘Beckham equivalents’ the same hyped-up air time … and in a nut shell that speaks volumes as a criticism of the ‘British media,’ his adoring public, and most importantly the FA’s ‘tragic’ (under) development system.

    • David Beckham is not, and never remotely has been, a great player. In his defence, though, I would point out that he was among the group of young Manchester United players who, in the early nineties, was greatly influenced by Eric Cantona, after he joined the club from Leeds United. Beckham, like his colleagues such as Scholes,Giggs, Butt, and the Neville brothers, was deeply impressed by the way the Frenchman stayed behind each day after training to work on improving his technical skills and he took the United youngsters under his wing to provide him with service of the ball and opposition etc. Soon, they were all copying Cantona’s example and thereby taking their skill to a higher level. I have seen Beckham pass on this desire for personal improvement when he had a Football Academy in SE London and on the odd occasions he made a personal visit, he was generous with his time in painstakingly helping children with their skill practice and sparing no effort in attempting to iron out and correct faults.
      With regard to the PSG team which Becham has now joined, I would add that the absence last week of suspended midfield player Matuedi, for the match in Barcelona, was a far more critical factor for the French team and the aquisition of Beckham seems more directed at the financial boost of shirt sales of a ‘celebrity’ rather than any thought of buying a ‘great’ player.

  7. As i stated in the ‘blog, i believe in conjunction with a magnificent public relations team Beckham, has become a fine ambassador for the game. There is no doubt that he has been a significant influence on people of all ages and this should not be denied. However, we have a huge development problem in this country; irrespective of time and money being hurled into futile attempts to produce quality talent we continue to uncover mediocre standards. I believe a part of this problem is the pedestalling of mediocrity as great by all areas of the media and this must end and true quality instead must be highlighted. In my opinion, Beckham was, as Best stated, ‘an all right player ‘……. let’s leave it at that.

    • I think that there are many qualities that go to make up a great player. We all seem to be agreed that David Beckham was nowhere near the category of ‘great’. But few would disagree that Messi undoubtedly fits that description.
      But who was the greatest of all time? Many would say Messi, but I think that it is still too early to give him that honour. It is, of course, hypothetical to laud anyone with that title, because there is no-one alive who has seen players from every era in the game’s history. However, at this moment in time, I would be inclined to place Mesdsi behind his countryman, Maradonna. The reason I say that is because I do not believe that anyone has ever had such a single-handed effect on a team has Maradonna had, and he had that effect on not just one, but two, teams.
      In 1986 Argentina had a relatively ordinary team at that World Cup; nothing like the quality of the team which won it in 1978. But Maradonna, almost single-handedly, carried that team through to the Final and ultimate victory. Shortly after that World Cup, Maradonna was tranferred to Napoli where they won the Italian championship two years running, never having previously won it in their whole history. Maradonna’s contribution was immense. Maradonna’s popularity among the Napoli supporters was so great that when Italy played Argentina in the semi finals of Italia 90, it was the Italians’ misfortune that the match was played in Naples. Italy were just one step from the Final, but large sections of the crowd were supporting Argentina simply beccause of Maradonna. Played anywhere else in Italy and it would almost certainly have been the Italians who would have gone through to the Final.
      So far, Messi has had only one World Cup without making a very great impression. I hope that his time comes, because, like many others, i believe that he is the one who really deserves the title of ‘the greatest’.

  8. Hi Steve. It makes little difference who one believes is the best ever because judgements of this level are very much personal ones. The important thing is that the players who are assessed at this level should have truly outstanding, all-round, playing qualities on which those decisions are made.

  9. The title of the article, “The Beckham Delusion”, could just as easily be entitled “The English Football Delusion”. Just as Beckham has been elevated to heights of praise way above his actual talents, so matches in England, especially the Premier League, are given the big build-up or coverage, far greater than they deserve. To entice the paying customer through the turnstiles for exhorbitant prices, or through the payment of TV subscriptions, the football follower is ‘conned’ into thinking that the football on offer is as special as the deafening hype maintains.
    The ‘Delusion’ has made a number of people in English football very rich, especially players and their agents. But in the long run, I believe that English football will be all the poorer. When England come back from another bitterly disappointing showing in an international tournament, you get a few weeks when the journalists in the press and the pundits on TV have their say about what is wrong with our player development process and then the new season restarts and gloom surrounding the national team is forgotten. The clubs are busy buying up the foreign stars of the recent tournament and the fact that only about 30% of the total number of players in the Premier League are English, is largely overlooked.
    At this moment in time I have serious doubts that England will qualify for the World Cup in Brazil next year. I think that Montenegro will win the group and qualify automatically and to finish second and go into the play-offs will not be easy, bearing in mind the difficulties England have already had against Poland and Ukraine. And if England do make the play-offs then they could meet tough opposition such as France or Belgium.
    Failure to qualify for Brazil would cost the FA a great deal of money. But perhaps this would help to bring English football to its senses. Perhaps we would get more honesty in our assessments instead of screaming from the rooftops about how good basically very ordinary players are. I sometimes wonder how many regular spectators there are at our top two divisions, where admission prices are at their highest, who were watching football 50 years or more ago. In those days, as i recall, even in the Fourth Division, most teams had at least one or two players who could play and, just as importantly, many spectators went along to see and appreciate those players.
    That was before the English game became drowned in hype. I have found that there are quite a number of people who watched football at top level in those days who now just watch non-league or even from the touchline at park matches. They don’t pretend that what they are seeing is good, but at last they are not paying through the nose for it. Unfortunately, there are a whole generation of spectators from the last 20 years who have grown up with the Premier League and although they are truly fortunate to have seen the Bergkamps and the Cantonas, the Zolas and the Silvas, at first hand, the hype and the tribalism has had a negative effect, especially when it is directed at English players who are usually very ordinary. When they get their chances in the senior England team we scratch our heads in puzzlement when they can’t even ‘hack it’ against supposedly third rate nations such as Montenegro and Switzerland, who we discover can keep the ball better than we do.

    • Couldn’t have put it better myself, especially the comments on the “Best League in the World” (provider of the European Cup/Champions League winner 4 times in 29 years, and the Europa League twice in 20).

  10. Hi Steve. The ‘lift the carpet’ deception has been with us for a considerable time — we have attempted to cover our game’s gradual demise over the years’. With all the time and money spent on coaching and development there has been no obviousl improvement in playing quality.
    We used to select second tier international squads to play against supposed inferior teams’– now these countries have become difficult opponents. How much longer are we to allow devisive methods to cover our football failings?
    Let’s speak the truth — we have no playing direction–no realistic development plan–no carefully structured playing infrastructure–insufficient guidance for junior coaches— a lack of ‘home-grown’ talent that can be set to youngsters as examples of real quality — media coverage is more concerned with protecting their finances than on stating the facts.
    They say that ‘money is the root of all evil’, well, when it comes to football here never was a statement so true. Lots of money has been squandered, misused, lost– call it what one likes, but monies distributed in such a disproportionate, greedy and ineffectual manner as has happened in our game has done much more harm than good.
    When will our game find the right man/woman to oversee the alarming mess that football here has become and retrack it to success? Until real direction is imposed it will be ‘lift the carpet’ and brush all the rubbish under it yet again by the army of ‘failed administrators’ at the top of our game.

  11. i honestly believe beckham has a great cross and a great dead ball shooter aside that he is not even better than his country men steven gerarad ,michel owen rooney and so on let alone to compare him among the best in the world . hugely over rated player i like steven gerard and michel owen 100 times more than beckham

  12. ***** NOTE TO MODERATOR… Sorry, I made a mistake in my posting, could you post this one instead? Thanks. **********

    Absolutely brilliant article, written by someone who has managed to keep his own mind!

    People love to be told by the media what to think, most people are too lazy to think for themselves.

    It’s like ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’- Beckham being a ‘brilliant player’ is just like saying: “2 + 2 = 5”. He was mediocre at best- he was promoted because he was the first openly ‘METROSEXUAL’ player- the ‘new man’. He married a Spice Girl, it’s a media marriage- they ‘sold their souls to the Devil’, and do whatever their paymasters tell them to do.

    The media push them on an almost daily basis. I’m tired (and was a long time ago) of hearing about them.

    Beckham played alongside Manchester United’s last ‘great team’ (in my opinion)- he has always been a parasite, and a one-trick pony.

    Wow.. he can score from a free-kick! / -:

  13. Ask Van Nistelrooy who he loved to play football with and he always says Beckham. The big Dutchman wouldn’t have scored half his goals at UTD had it not been for Beckham’s crossing ability. Old golden balls could always do the one thing that so many English players couldn’t and still can’t do well…. Retain possession!!!!!! That’s before we’ve even mentioned his dead ball abilities.
    Becks made things look easy. Ok he wasn’t doing a fancy step over or dropping a shoulder to ghost past a player… But he actually had real end product.

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