Amid the incredible coiffures, salacious headlines, and steely-gazed advertising eroticism, David Beckham has once again used his ability to reinvent himself where it matters most: as a player.
Resuming his play with AC Milan last Wednesday, the 34-year-old showed he is not only capable of making himself useful, his joy for the game, so evident in his beaming smile, brought a new energy to the aristocratic Italian team who went on to defeat Genoa, 5-2. This past Sunday Beckham turned in another solid game to help Milan defeat 3rd place Juventus, 3-0, a victory that puts the Rossoneri eight points behind first place Inter but with a game in hand to be played.
As an athlete on the other side of 30, Beckham has approached his game as shrewdly as he has approached the marketing of his image. No longer the Terrier of a mid-field player who can get behind the defense, Beckham has reinvented himself as a utility player who will play wherever needed, be it defense, midfield, or, as he did in both games for Milan, filling in for the injured Pato on right wing. He can still make the punishing runs down the right side and his work ethic is as strong as ever but his game is more about feeling the flow of the game, knowing how his teammates work, being in the right place at the right time and doing whatever his coach asks of him. In an age when players with unfulfilled playing demands can force coaches out of jobs, Beckham’s attitude is mature and his acceptance seems graceful.
Beckham is succeeding because he has a goal: to make the England National Team roster for the 2010 World Cup. Fabio Capello, the granite-jawed England coach from northern Italy, has always had a distant and disciplinarian relationship with his players. His relationship with Beckham is no different. In the 2006-07 season, Capello took the coaching reigns of Real Madrid which had been suffering one of its longest droughts without a trophy. Playing right midfield was Beckham. Instead of playing the free-flowing, individualistic Galácticos style craved by the fans and media, Capello unapologetically organized his team around defense, a style that would win the league trophy and his sacking.