David Beckham first appeared on television as a spiky-haired child, excitedly burbling about his ambitions to be a professional footballer. If you were one of the few to see it, you probably smiled indulgently and then forgot all about him. Now it seems that there is barely a soul on the planet who hasn't seen him on television. Beckham is, for two more weeks anyway, the most famous footballer on Earth. It's an extraordinary outcome for someone who wasn't even the best footballer on his team for much of his career.
It's 1:45pm on Tuesday in New York City. The masses are settling in for the stretch run of the work day, but I'm staring at the clock plotting my escape. Everything is prepared: shirt and scarf stashed in my bag, excuse seeded ("offsite meeting"), and my route plotted (1 Train to the L, 31 minutes travel time). Like all my prior covert midday operations, this one will end at a familiar destination: a pub watching Arsenal. Aside from the odd league fixture, midweek during the season has always meant one thing to me: Champions League Football.
With all the attention focused on the departure of one Premier League manager Wednesday, it was hardly surprising that the future of another was largely ignored. Rafael Benitez has just three more matches before his marriage of inconvenience with Chelsea is formally dissolved, but where will his idiosyncratic career take him next? -- Chelsea's lack of style -- Benitez: Give Moyes time at United It certainly won't keep him at Stamford Bridge. Even though the fans' animosity toward him has died down, it's still evident whenever the team's performance sags.
Social Media had been awash with rumours of Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement from Manchester United and when the news was finally confirmed on Wednesday morning, it was Twitter that led the charge with the tributes to the most successful manager in British football. And while his current charges appear to be under strict orders to stay away from their smart phones, plenty of Fergie's former players and opponents were happy to hand out the plaudits. Below is a selection of some the more interesting ones.
Jose Mourinho has finally admitted what we have long suspected. All he ever wanted was to be loved. The Italians, apart from the ones who follow Internazionale, don't love him. The Spaniards, save for the lingering band of loyalists who don't yet feel that he has pushed his own agenda above that of Real Madrid, don't love him. And so he wants to return to a place where he is loved. Unlike Elvis Costello, he actually does want to go to Chelsea. But do Chelsea want him to come back? Certainly the majority of supporters are in favour, but when have they ever been consulted or considered on matters of recruitment?
The age of the diminutive attacking midfielder is over! All hail the bulky center forward! OK, perhaps that's something of an overreaction. Barcelona will be back, reinforced, reinvigorated and hopefully with a restored manager who only needs to worry about football. Real Madrid will spend, both on players and a new coach, in yet another bid to reclaim their place as kings of Europe. Nevertheless, a lesson was handed down to the Spanish clubs this week; technique is not everything. Possession is not everything.
At the sight of the number '10' on the electronic board, the West Ham fans roared with delight. Wayne Rooney, sweating and puffing after 70 minutes of jogging around and messing things up, stared at the board contemptuously and then trudged slowly off the pitch. Around him, Upton Park erupted with raucous songs of what we shall diplomatically call a sexual nature. They like little more than gleefully monstering Manchester United players in East London. They've been doing it ever since Paul Ince unwisely chose to wear a red shirt while he was still being paid to wear a claret one.
Barcelona are through to the semifinals of the Champions League, but that will be as far as they go if they repeat the performance they offered up against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night. Without Lionel Messi, the Catalans had all the cutting edge of a large pudding spoon. Manager Tito Vilanova has much to ponder. It is tempting to conclude that Barcelona without Messi are like the Gotham City Police Department without Batman; a barely functional organization that prevails only through the efforts of a lone superhero.
The Manchester derby -- United vs. City, red vs. blue, Sir Alex Ferguson vs. Roberto Mancini, one very expensive squad vs. another, slightly more expensive squad -- is one of the highlights of the English Premier League calendar. I know this because the league table tells me so. But forget everything you've ever known about the two teams and their impending clash because comedian/video-maker Anthony Richardson (of CPU vs. CPU and PL Playthrough fame) is back with a new video series to educate and illuminate on the eve of the big game.
Now that the furore has finally passed, we can get back to the football. Paolo Di Canio's declaration that he is neither a fascist nor a racist should have been made when he was appointed. Sunderland's attempt to hide from the growing controversy, demanding that back-page journalists ignore an issue that was dominating the front pages, was as cowardly as it was unsuccessful. The reporters in the north-east are more in tune with their readers than most and they were quite right to demand answers from the Italian.
If Arsenal are to mount yet another late charge for a top-four finish, they must win on Saturday. Last season, the Gunners won nine out of 10 Premier League games from Feb. 4 to April 11 to reel in Tottenham Hotspur and snatch third place. They've left it late this year, but given that Tottenham's wheels have again begun to groan and wobble under pressure, there's every chance that Arsene Wenger can pull off another Champions League smash and grab. Reading will be an unpredictable foe, drained by six successive defeats in all competitions, but boosted by the arrival of new manager Nigel Adkins.
There will be heartache this summer. Free of interfering press officers and perhaps a little too relaxed in his home country, Liverpool's star striker Luis Suarez has admitted to a journalist that he would consider an offer from a club with "more prospects". - Suarez hints at Liverpool exit - Ayre plays down Suarez quit reports Managing director Ian Ayre was immediately dispatched to the BBC studios to insist that it was all a misunderstanding and that Suarez's words had been lost in translation.