From Beckham to Ronaldo: when the solution is the problem

Gerrard, that day, offered a glimpse into what happens when Roy Race exists in the flesh, rather than on the page: an endless series of h...


Gerrard, that day, offered a glimpse into what happens when Roy Race exists in the flesh, rather than on the page: an endless series of hopeful and desperate shots, each more desperate. each other. Liverpool, so brutally effective this season, were suddenly dulled by their own captain’s belief that salvation was one man’s job.

Beckham’s performance against Greece contrasts with this, an example of the power of the Racy approach. His decisive intervention at the last moment, that postcard free kick, seemed straight out of Melchester’s back catalog. It was the history of English football shaped, live on television, by a great man.

There is, however, another reading of this game, which at least one elite manager privately approves. Beckham’s indiscipline of position fundamentally undermined England’s balance. By abdicating his specific role, Beckham has undermined his own team. He played well that day, but based on that, the rest of the squad didn’t – and couldn’t.

That’s a guess, of course, but it’s entirely possible that England didn’t need Beckham to score a last-minute free kick to save a point if he hadn’t felt so obliged to be the captain, to be the hero. It may be, in fact, that he simply delivered England from a problem which he himself had created.

This example is worth considering when evaluating Beckham’s immediate – and current – successor as Manchester United’s No.7.

Whether Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest players of all time is not in question. That he has, since returning to England, scored a series of crucial goals for Manchester United is indisputable. He scored the late goal that beat Villarreal in a Champions League group stage game. He scored the late goal that beat Atalanta in another. Just this week he repeated the blow against the latter, his 90th-minute strike reclaiming a point for United in Bergamo, Italy.

Ronaldo has therefore been presented as the solution to United’s problems, a cast that covers his team’s many flaws. And this interpretation is, in almost all respects, correct.

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