I had a host of neatly set out appointment posts for the week that were supposed to carry me through to the end of the season. Today was to be on football tactics. That’s all done now, because English football is doing one of those emotional, Doctor Who-esque regenerations in which Tom Baker’s face starts glowing until he wakes up as Peter Davison.
Ten days ago, Sir Alex Ferguson was going to be around for another season at Old Trafford, David Moyes was set to add another year to his impressive and unlikely pile of time at Everton, Rooney was getting ready let to his career arc wane just a little bit more by remaining at Manchester United, Paul Scholes would be there to laugh behind his back in the United dressing room, David Beckham would be lollygagging around Paris with PSG, and Rio Ferdinand might still consider throwing on an England shirt if he felt like answering the increasingly desperate calls.
Even Frank Lampard’s one-year contract at Chelsea is more a goodwill gesture than a serious investment, a sign the player is basking in the warm, lovely twilight of a decent slowdown. All that is left is for Steven Gerrard to get a season-ending injury against Fulham or something and for the Daily Mail to get the scoop that he’s calling it quits.
We don’t necessarily have to mash meaning into a series of coincidental retirements, but there is a sense that the mainstream edifice of the English game is passing away. And I don’t mean the risible, stale joke of the Golden Generation that was supposed to win things for England in the aughts and instead delighted in missing penalty kicks every two years.
Football is saying goodbye to the generation that transformed the Premier League to an interesting, post-Taylor Report stadium improvement project to a massive, multi-billion pound/euro/dollar corporate orgy in which two of the nation’s biggest clubs are owned by Americans and the rest by Russian or Middle East oil investment money. The lines of cause and correlation in this two decade development can be traced directly to Beckham’s face, sitting under an exotic, historical Zoetrope of perfectly audience-tested haircuts. TV needed Beckham for the Premier League to work, and after a short wait, there was David lobbing a ball from the half-way line against Wimbledon.
It’s for this reason that in some ways Beckham’s retirement from football is even more significant than Ferguson’s. Football fans knew about Ferguson. The world knew about Beckham. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t as good as Messi or Ronaldo, that he was a utility player of the highest order, or that his single, most definable skills—free kicks and crosses—were a vital sideshow to the main event, but a sideshow nonetheless. He was like a mini-England. Wealthy, popular on TV, the subject of a lot of off the pitch hysteria. Respected by some big names, equally derided elsewhere. Very, very good, but maybe a bit limited. In his day, demanded the world round.
In any case, that’s all over now. The battle for TV has been won, the chips have fallen where . Despite hints of a European decline, the Eee Pee El still puts asses in the seats across most of the English-speaking world, and much of East Asia (again, take a bow David Beckham). Now it will have to figure out a way to maintain that stranglehold with no Ferguson, no nineties era United, no Golden Generation led by Golden Balls. They’ll be hoping the present mish-mash of money and ever-changing managers will do the trick in its stead.