A couple of weeks ago, David Beckham was holding forth in the Galaxy locker room after a victory over the Chicago Fire when the conversation got around to the beard he was sporting.
Was it a disguise to allow him to slip into Ukraine unnoticed with the rest of England’s national team?
“No,” Beckham said. “I just got lazy. It’ll probably be gone tomorrow.”
Hair today, gone tomorrow? No way.
By the next day, it wasn’t gone. The beard accompanied Beckham to Europe for England’s World Cup qualifiers against Ukraine and Belarus. In fact, it caused almost as much comment as England’s play.
Newspapers and their websites delighted in showing the various looks Beckham has unveiled over the years. The accompanying opinions were withering but not altogether unkind.
“It’s a terrible beard,” wrote the Times of London. “Almost laughably so. Scrappy, overgrown, rumpled . . . an unruly pelt that tapers far below the acceptable Adam’s apple line and, unforgivably, joins up with the chest hair. A little bit Wolverine, a little bit Abraham Lincoln.”
Beckham was compared to a lumberjack, a polar explorer, a backwoodsman, Che Guevara.
But even the latter was better than the comparison drawn by the Daily Mail in the spring of 2008, when the midfielder last opted for the hairy look.
“With his shaved head and flourishing beard, Beckham’s new look has prompted onlookers to ask whether he has secretly joined the Taliban,” the tabloid wrote.
This time around, the “quality dailies” were less unforgiving.
“There is nothing wrong with beards,” wrote the Telegraph. “But they need to be cut, trimmed and as carefully nurtured as topiary; or else a long statement of hirsute superiority, as proudly sported by ZZ Top front man Billy Gibbons.
“Anything else just looks as careless as Julia Roberts forgetting to shave under her arms.”
It was left to another Telegraph columnist to deliver the final verdict:
“Even in the world of soccer it rates as less nightmarish than the fungus that was once sported by U.S. star Alexi Lalas.”
Magician at work
No one compared Beckham to the long-bearded Merlin, but another former Manchester United No. 7 has fallen afoul of magicians.
At least that’s what Jose “Pepe” Ruz, a self-styled professional warlock from Malaga in Spain, is claiming. He wrote a letter recently to Florentino Perez, the president of Real Madrid, warning that he had been “contracted” to make sure Cristiano Ronaldo suffers a serious injury.
“It is nonsense, like many things we have to deal with regularly,” a Real Madrid spokesman sniffed.
But then Olympique Marseille defender Souleymane Diawara went studs-first into Ronaldo’s right ankle in a European Champions League game. The injury has caused the Portuguese star and reigning FIFA world player of the year to be sidelined for up to a month. “I am sad and it’s something that has been torturing me, as it was never my intention to hurt him,” Diawara said last week.
No word from Malaga on whether warlock Ruz is taking credit.
It was Ghana that knocked the United States out of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and now Chelsea’s Ghanaian star, Michael Essien, wants to do the same to England.
“My wish will be for Ghana to play England either in the group stage or at the knockout stage,” the midfielder said on his website.
“If we both have fully fit squads to choose from, it will be a battle without a doubt -- Michael Essien, Stephen Appia, Sulley Muntari versus Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry in the middle of the park.
“As we say in Ghana, when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.”
The beach boy
Allow your son to take a beach ball to an away game and watch him rob your team of any chance to win the English Premier League title.
That’s what happened Saturday when Liverpool was playing Sunderland on the road at the Stadium of Light.
The 18-time English champions were already hurting because of the absence of the injured Gerrard and Fernando Torres, but what happened next was unforeseen and unforgivable.
Five minutes into the game, a child threw a large Liverpool beach ball onto the field. No one did anything about it. Sunderland’s Darren Bent fired a shot that struck the beach ball and was deflected wide of Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
“The beach ball was sitting there in their six-yard box,” Bent said, “so if they leave it there, they pay the penalty.”
The goal was allowed, despite valid Liverpool protests that the referee should have stopped play, and Sunderland went on to win, 1-0.
So Liverpool has lost four games and it’s only October. The team’s Premier League title chances are out the window, so it will just have to be the Champions League again this year.
Things could be worse.
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Game of numbers
9 -- It’s U.S. forward Charlie Davies’ number, or at least it was until a broken curfew, a broken car and a broken body added up to a broken World Cup dream.
19 -- The number worn by Maicon, who could have won Brazil the Under-20 World Cup in Cairo but instead hoofed his penalty kick over the crossbar as Ghana became the Cup’s first African winner.
29 -- The age a player has to be to win Monaco’s “Golden Foot Award,” which last week was given to AC Milan and Brazil star Ronaldinho, whose footprints now adorn the Champions Promenade overlooking the seafront at Monte Carlo.
69 -- Jimmy Greaves’ age, which needs to be taken into consideration when the former England striker turned television personality says: “Personally, I wouldn’t pick [David] Beckham anymore. I would give some of the younger lads an opportunity to get experience instead.”
-- Grahame L. Jones