David Beckham’s loan moves from the Los Angeles Galaxy to AC Milan were solely to boost his chances of playing for England at his fourth World Cup.
A serious Achilles tendon injury while playing for the Italian club on Sunday means his international career is almost certainly over. There will be no sign of Beckham bending free kicks in South Africa in June and those in charge of the money he makes from commercial activities will have to rethink their plans.
The freak injury, which happened with not a single opponent anywhere near him, is a major blow for "brand Beckham" which relies heavily on his ability to stay in the spotlight in football’s biggest events.
Article continues below ...
With AC Milan eliminated from the Champions League on Wednesday, Beckham knows his expected absence from the World Cup is bad news for those responsible for keeping his profile in the public eye.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid star, who earned $16.5 million from personal sponsorship deals during his first season with the Galaxy, was expected to be in Fabio Capello’s England squad primarily as a substitute and used as an impact player from the bench.
But now, while the world’s greatest players prepare to go to South Africa for the sport’s biggest event, Beckham and his commercial advisers will be looking on, wondering what they can do to make an impact while the former England captain recovers from his latest injury.
He receives a $5.5 million basic salary from the Galaxy but his absence from the World Cup could affect his earnings potential from endorsements and other deals.
Beckham, who has played 115 times for England, has experienced a mixture of highs and lows in the World Cup. His absence is another twist.
His red card against Argentina in 1998 for petulantly kicking an opponent while lying on the ground was considered the main reason England was eliminated and he was pilloried by fans back home. But his penalty against the same team four year later made up for it.
When he limped off the field against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup, that appeared to be his final appearance in the England shirt. After an emotional farewell, however, he fought his way back into the team and no Englishman other than goalkeeper Peter Shilton has played more times.
Unless surgery produces an amazing recovery, Beckham’s best chance of being at the World Cup in South Africa appears to be as a TV analyst. More likely, he will be alongside wife Victoria in Los Angeles and, for a committed England footballer, his inability to be with the team will hurt, especially after what he had done to stay there.
As a Galaxy player, Beckham was considered too far away from the hotly contested European leagues to guarantee a place in England’s World Cup squad. When MLS was in its final stages and his domestic club was no longer in contention, Beckham engineered a move to Milan to play alongside the stars Capello knew so well, having been the Italian club’s former coach.
Beckham only moved to Milan two seasons ago because Capello wanted him to play regularly in European football and he played impressively enough to make sure he was called up by England. Even as a late substitute in World Cup qualifying matches, he made enough appearances to break the national record for the most by an outfield player.
It was all looking so promising for Beckham until he limped off in Milan’s 1-0 victory over Chievo on Sunday.
On Wednesday, he received a standing ovation from the Manchester United fans on his return to Old Trafford for the first time since 2003. The warmth of the welcome, even as an opposing Milan player in the Champions League, underlined his value as an England star and former Man United favorite.
As a player well into his mid-30s, however, Beckham was always in danger of sliding down the ladder of success while the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney overtook him as the global stars of the game.
When he returned to Old Trafford as a visitor, he appeared powerless as United beat his Milan lineup 4-0 to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.
Then the injury against Chievo came totally unexpected. While it appears to take away a difficult decision from England coach Capello, it gives Beckham’s commercial team a new game to play.