Changing the game: what David Beckham’s act of generosity means for the business of football
When I was a young man, full of ire and uncertainty, I would have been perfectly happy for an alien space craft to come down and whisk away Manchester United and all who sailed upon it. The thought of a malevolent alien species relentlessly probing Sir Alex Ferguson for information he simply did not have, would have filled me with joy. Yes, I was one of ‘those’ people.
David Beckham at a bad angle? Surely not...
And in this envious and entirely unreasonable dislike I also included the national treasure that is David Beckham. To me he was just a series of haircuts in a series of adverts with a series of unusually named offspring.
But, much like the Olympics, Gok Wan and chocolate flavoured Jammie Dodgers I have been forced to revaluate my assessment and now recognise that David Beckham is a decent man.
Yesterday Beckham did something that surely has secured his place, alongside Michael Palin and Stephen Fry, as one of England’s most beloved sons.
Beckham signed for French football team Paris Saint-Germain and then announced his entire wage from the club would be donated to a children’s charity based in the city.
And this act took place on the final day of the football transfer window – a period more than any other that embodies the greed and self interest that many feel fatally tarnishes the game.
In stark contrast to Beckham, for example, one particular idiot named Peter Odemwingie was so desperate to push through a lucrative move to another club, he took himself down to their stadium, presumably hoping they’d see him hanging round inside and take him in. If that is how you sign for professional football clubs nowadays then i’m off to linger around the Nottingham Forest ground and wait for them to snap me up.
And that is why Beckham’s behaviour, from a PR point of view, is such an extraordinary act.
Naturally some cynicism has already been swirling around what he did. His contract at Paris Saint-Germain is short and although his wage will be considerable (reputedly £3m), the amount he is donating is just a fraction of his own personal wealth.
Similarly, some are saying that Beckham earns such a fortune from his endorsement deals outside the game, he can easily afford to give away what he makes for actually playing.
However, I think you have to be remarkably mean spirited to believe anything other than what he has done is a wonderful act of generosity and altruism.
Beckham, although at times a little over exposed, has always been marketed extremely successfully, as man, a sportsman and a brand.
But this latest act is far removed from him selling tracksuits or mobile phones (or even, oddly, felt tip pens). It is a statement to those outside of football that players can make a contribution to the world beyond their capacity to whack a small sphere into a big rectangle.
Maybe even more significantly, within football itself he has set a standard of behaviour and character that some of today’s more poorly behaved players may use to review their own lives against.
The biggest danger to the massively lucrative marketability of football is that the public may tire of paying one third of their weekly wage to see what are widely (though often unfairly) perceived to be criminals, adulterers and louts, with a collective income significant enough to build a couple of hospitals each week.
Beckham has shown everyone associated with the game, that football and footballers can and should be something to admire and value.
Next week: John Terry buys ponies for all the orphans.
Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. Peter Odemwingie is standing outside his house.