CULTURE

A player, his family and mean coach

Manchester United, for some inexplicable reason, was the most popular soccer team in the world even before its recent string of successes, which began in 1991. Maybe it had to do with the unfulfilled promise of the youngsters of the team whom died tragically in a 1958 plane crash; or the brilliance of one of the survivors, Bobby Charlton; or, later, that of stars such as Denis Law and George Best. The amazing thing is that Man Utd never lost its popularity, even when it won nothing over a period of 23 years, beginning in 1968. By extension, Manchester United’s most popular player is the most popular soccer player in the world. And that’s David Beckham, even after a lackluster last season with Real Madrid. Only his Real teammates, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, may come close, though none of them is married to another celebrity, as Beckham is to the singer Victoria Adams, ex-Posh Spice. It’s no surprise, then, that his ghostwritten autobiography, «David Beckham – My Side,» has sold well over a million copies. Given the interest in soccer here, the Greek translation, published this year by Ellinika Grammata, should do well. Beckham has endured more than his fair share of criticism. George Best once said of him that he has a poor tackle, an ordinary head and an ineffective left leg. «The rest is OK,» he said. No one, however, who saw Beckham in that famous England-Greece game at Old Trafford can doubt his worth. It was not only his brilliant free kick in stoppage time, which guaranteed England a place in the last World Cup, but his overall effort to lift his dispirited teammates. Incidentally, that goal not only added to his reputation but, in a sense, was the beginning of a sharp deterioration in his relations with Man Utd coach Alex Ferguson, who became more determined than ever to cut his famous player down to size. «Collaborator» Tom Wall has claimed that his role was «just getting things down on paper,» but few believe it. After all, Beckham has been described as a sub-par communicator («Speech is a second language to him,» an admirer has written). Still, this is his story, and a compelling one, especially his developing feud with his coach.