Coming to terms with celebrity
This article appeared in Goal Weekly, 9 December 2011, p. 2, and the Geelong Advertiser, 10 December 2011, p. 42 as ‘Striking Difference.’
The David Beckham show that is Los Angeles Galaxy rolled into Etihad Stadium last night eclipsing the brief flickering of another celebrity footballer who had his moment earlier this year, Harry Kewell.
The two footballers could hardly be more different in terms of their embrace of the status they have acquired as commodities in a world of celebrity stardom and intolerable hype.
Beckham faces many times more scrutiny than Kewell and is a much bigger star in the global arena, yet he is comfortable in the role, brilliantly well adjusted and despite a manufactured attempt to pretend that he is stupid, intelligent, sensible and grounded.
Last night he handled all his media commitments with aplomb, humour and openness, including the post-match press conference, after playing all but three minutes of the match carrying a hamstring strain incurred in the championship game for his club to end their regular season prior to this tour.
Kewell by contrast nearly always appears uncomfortable in media and celebrity functions and talks incessantly about only feeling free to be himself on the football pitch.
The levels of rewards the two players receive for their efforts are very different, a clear order of magnitude exists between their incomes.
Beckham moves effortlessly between environments, continues to perform, trains like a beast, and switches to the public role with aplomb.
It is tempting to look into their different backgrounds to find the answers to these contrasting responses to their celebrity.
Beckham grew up in London, the son of lower middle class parents, who supported but did not push him.
He idolised Manchester United and got the chance to join the club as part of a golden generation which had stellar success in their first full season in the senior team, demolishing Liverpool legend and football pundit Alan Hansenâ€™s forecast, â€˜You will never win anything with kids.â€™
He went on to win the European Champions League with United, then fell out with Sir Alex Ferguson and moved to Real Madrid and won La Liga with them before going to Galaxy for five years on a Â£25 million contract.
He played for England in the World Cup and European championships.
Kewell grew up in Sydney, the son of English lower middle class parents, who supported but did not push him.
He represented New South Wales in the national championships at Under-15 in 1994 and soon afterwards went to Leeds United on trial where he was offered a contract which he was able to accept through his English parentage.
He represented Australia at youth level, made his breakthrough into the Leeds senior team in 1996 and was fast-tracked into the Australian national team in April that year against Chile.
A move to Liverpool then followed and it included a start and a winnerâ€™s medal in a European Champions League final against AC Milan in 2005.
He represented Australia at the World Cup in Germany and South Africa.
Both are photogenic and can be fashion plates when the mood takes them.
Both Kewell and Beckham married celebrity performersâ€”Sheree Murphy, who played Tricia Dingle on Emmerdale on United Kingdom television, and Victoria Adams better known as â€˜Posh Spiceâ€™ respectively.
The Kewells have three children, the Beckhams have four.
Though the levels might be different, the careers have a lot in common and both have had a long time to come to terms with their status and circumstances.
Both had serious low points and consequent vilification in their careers. Beckham was pilloried for being sent off for kicking an Argentinian player during the World Cup in France in 1998 in a match which England eventually lost on penalties.
Kewell was believed to be malingering at Liverpool and was booed by the fans when he limped off in the European Cup final.
He had a long series of injuries in his career and some linked these were linked in the popular mind to picking and choosing which matches he played for the Socceroos over a long period.
You get the sense that Kewell is much less secure in himself, than Beckham and has been for a long period seen as dependent on his manager Bernie Mandic, while Team Beckham has always been dominated by the principal himself.
Kewell recently parted company with Mandic, which may be an indication of increasing maturity.
Kewell makes noises about putting back into the game when he finishes playing, while Beckham has already done so on a significant scale with academies in London and other places where disadvantaged children can follow their dream.
Did Kewell dodge the column by failing to appear in the match against Galaxy or was he so determined to be fit for the critical A-League match against Adelaide United at the weekend that he did not want to risk injury? Or was he sure his star would be eclipsed if he went head-to head with Beckham? It would have been a match to savour, but it did not happen.
As it happened Kewell did appear to be interviewed at half-time during the match saying that he was fit and keen to play. The implication being that his coach Mehmet Durakovic, with his career potentially on the line, decided to hold him back for the Adelaide game.
While this is understandable from a Victory perspective, short changing the fans who paid up to $170.00 for a seat is very cynical.
How many of them were seduced by the pre-match Beckham versus Kewell hype?