When Redondo and Raul overshadowed a fine David Beckham goal
Manchester United 2-3 Real Madrid (agg: 2-3), 19.04.2000
The best goals are typically those that can be looked back on fondly; naturally, then, they have to be in a winning context. This one isn’t that. It’s an exception to the rule — my rule — that goals have to mean something.
It could be argued that it wasn’t a completely meaningless goal, even it did happen with Manchester United 3-0 down (at home in a game they were expected to win). Indeed, David Beckham’s strike had appeared to reinvigorate United at the time, and was perhaps one that would inspire the side to another late, famous rally. But, then again, they needed three more because of the away goal rule. And they managed just the one, a Paul Scholes penalty just before the clock struck ninety.
In isolating the goal, regardless of the result, it is clearly a very good one. But again, a goal needs something around it for it to resonate; just look at what placed 40th on an ITV show on the greatest Champions League goals: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ’99 final winner against Bayern Munich. That one was going to be special before it was even scored, no matter how it was scored. What does this mean for Beckham’s goal, then? No context, no nothing. Not important.
Except, maybe not. “The thing that was always said about David Beckham was that he couldn’t beat a man,” said Clive Tyldesley, as he introduced the show’s number 47. “Well, he beat a couple there.” It was a goal that was so unconventional, so surprising that it was oddly amusing, because it had come from Beckham, a player often accused of being fairly one-dimensional. George Best probably agreed with that, in typically Best-like fashion: “Beckham can’t kick with his left foot, doesn’t score many goals, can’t head a ball and can’t tackle. Apart from that, he’s all right.”
A proper, damning criticism of Beckham came weeks before the Old Trafford game, in the aftermath of the 0-0 draw in Real Madrid’s home leg, where the defending champions no longer looked a team to be feared. Roberto Carlos was most disappointed by United, calling them “just another team”. He didn’t see much in Beckham, either. “Against Real Sociedad, I had to face [Ricardo] Sa Pinto, who came at me one-on-one and put crosses in,” Carlos started. “But against Manchester United I had Beckham, who comes from centre-field and tries to cross, but he is not a player with speed or real ability and you seldom have to face him in one-on-one situations.” It would have been wonderful for United to have won that game and Beckham to score the goal that he did. It’s funny, but could have been infinitely funnier had the reds turned up, to think Carlos had been made to look most pathetic by the player he seldom faced in one-on-one situations.
Picking up a Scholes pass, Beckham looked up, saw a charging Carlos — and just eased past him. Beckham didn’t take a breather; he glided past Carlos’ Brazilian counterpart Savio, moved away from the approaching Aitor Karanka and smashed the ball hard into the top right-hand corner past Iker Casillas, who, for 154 minutes of the tie, looked nothing like what an 18-year-old goalkeeper should do. The finish would have made a fine goal in itself.
Carlos’ poked tongue at Beckham was nothing new around this time, especially with all the post-France ’98 revisionism, even though this moment fell not long after Beckham had the boast of being the world’s second best player, after Rivaldo, as those that voted in 1999’s Ballon d’Or agreed. Indeed, Carlos was quick to change his tune when Beckham joined his club a few years later, describing him as an “excellent player” that would soon “end all the rumours saying he is only an advertisement boy.” For the initial jibe, read: mind games. And as much a nothing concept as ‘mind games’ is, Carlos must have believed it, because he was unfortunately right. For over an hour with United trailing 3-0, Beckham could barely impose himself in the game. But, even still, that goal. It was pretty good (and one that surely would not have been scored had the game not gone from the hosts).
All of this, and it could just be that Beckham’s great moment wasn’t even the game’s best. Raul’s second, Madrid’s third, hasn’t even been mentioned yet. But everyone knows of Fernando Redondo’s 40 yard run, nonchalant flick through Henning Berg’s legs, then the manner in which he accelerated to the byline with a pass to Raul to seal it off.
It seems strange to say so now, but what Beckham did was surprising even in a game where Redondo did that; at the time, there seemed to be something romantic about Argentine and Brazilian players in Europe — they had an altogether fresh approach, and those that played for the top clubs played with an air of superiority and Redondo was one of them. He was one of those players we see these days as cool to like because, why not? Everything Redondo did seemed natural (far more expressive than your typical ‘defensive-midfielder’), while Beckham’s was just — not very Beckham.
The Redondo-Raul goal will forever be remembered, but Beckham’s own effort at least warrants a passing mention.