Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shack to the future

"They didn't respect each other, they didn't like each other, they didn't talk to each other and they merely tolerated each other on the field" - Alexi Lalas on David Beckham's LA love-in with Landon Donovan.

"David doesn’t say too much, but if he does you know he means it and that it is well aimed" -Donovan speaking to the New York Times, May 2008.

Beckham's riposte to Donovan's broadside was juicy but this is still a case of old news, given other Galaxy players had broached the subject and Donovan's incendiary quotes were lit a while ago, before he also jumped on the plane to Europe. And hands up who thought Becks' moneybags move and escape to Italy had made him popular in the Home Depot Center dressing-room anyway.

Becks' boast of playing at "the biggest clubs in the world and with some of the biggest players in the world, not to mention some of the strongest managers" was a triple whammy at MLS in general, before he went on to pique his own teammates in stating that "any Galaxy player" would have done the same as him and gone to Milan.

All this makes his insistence that he is "looking forward" to returning to California a hoot. Oh to be a fly on the wall when Becks and Landon sit down in private as promised, although I feel an interpreter might be needed, and not just because Becks thinks conjugating is something you only do with your wife. The wife in question incidentally confessed to having never read a book four years ago - will the publicity for Grant Wahl's 'The Beckham Experiment' persuade her to break the habit of a lifetime?

No, the problem David and Landon have in making up is that England and the US are still separated by a common language, sport. Beckham's presence in a league still forming remains surreal, especially since he earns so much more than the other players and he does not want to be there any more than his teammates want him to be. While Donovan has every right to complain and Beckham to defend himself, their diverging priorities make me feel like they are speaking different languages.

They're not the only ones. When Don Garber compared the transatlantic war of words at LA Galaxy to that of "Shaq and Kobe", the hoops reference was lost on most Anglo ears. Kobe means a Japanese earthquake to us first, Mr Bryant a distant second, alas.

If he had said 'Shack and Trevor' it would have made more sense to a British audience, because the Beckham-Donovan fracas echoes one played out between two British soccer stars of yesteryear, Englishman Len Shackleton and Welshman Trevor Ford, particularly Beckham's quote that "If there is a chance for Landon to score I will pass to him - of course I will."

Ford and Shackleton played together at top-flight Sunderland from 1950-'54, but famously fell out to the extent that Shackleton, a supremely talented inside forward, would deliberately put spin on his passes so that Ford, at center-forward, would mis-control the ball.

Ford was a classically tough and headstrong No.9, 'Shack' a maverick who would thrill crowds with outrageous tricks, flicks and showboating, such taking a run-up to a penalty kick from the halfway line before back-heeling the ball into the goal.

Shack's crowd-pleasing, as was the case for so many fantasistas down the years, truncated his international career. A killjoy FA defended not picking him more for England, "because we play at Wembley Stadium, not the London Palladium." Shackleton went on to produce the most famous chapter in a footballer's autobiography in his 1955 book, 'The Clown Prince of Soccer', entitled 'The Average Director's Knowledge of Football': He left the page blank.

Perhaps like Beckham and Donovan, Shack & Ford could just never really see eye-to-eye. On one legendary occasion, Shackleton rounded the opposition goalkeeper and instead of billowing the onion bag, knocked the ball back upfield to Ford, calling out, -

"Don't say I never pass the ball to you again!"

-Sean O'Conor


DrewVT6 said...

who f'n cares about the british tabloids and MLS? Why in the world would Garber cater to an even more out of touch sporting society when he's spending all his time trying to reach ours? I mean the brits barely know people play soccer in other leagues OUTSIDE of England and Scotland! So why would anyone expect them to know anything about the 2nd most globalized sport in the world?

Sean O'Conor said...

There's another common language that separates us - irony

AdamTheRed said...

It would be hilarious if the week Beckham makes his MLS return, Donovan is sold to a European side!