These days I'm just a humble researcher for Julie Burchill
There was a very silly observation about David Beckham the other day by a so-called football expert, one who has been writing about football for hundreds of years, goes to matches all the time, swears he loves the game. He suggested, rather smuttily, that the reason for Beckham's loss of form is because he and Posho are trying for a brother/sister for Brooklyn, aged two this month, so he's too knackered.
I don't suppose Becks lost any sleep over it, as he is the most written-about 25-year-old this side of the planet. With more to come. Julie Burchill is now working on a biography of him, once she's eased herself out of bed, once she's got to grips with what he does. She's been on the blower for help. I've faxed her a few technical details. Eleven-a-side, the white wooden posts are called goals, that round thing is the ball. If she doesn't give me a research credit, I'll be livid.
Salman Rushdie is doing a novel about him in which he falls to earth and turns into Angela Carter. Andrew Motion is finishing an epic poem about him. It's really about Andrew's old father, with some lovely memories of his Brylcreem jar, but he's got Becks in the title and the Guardian's panting for it.
The silly person was me, here, last week. And I take it all back. Loss of form is a very serious condition that should not be mocked or made little of. Normal people, going about their normal work, don't suffer from it. Only those whose work depends on skill or artistry know what it's like when it deserts them.
Poets, so the myth goes, perform best when young. Their loss of form comes quite suddenly, and the muse moves on. Hence it's vital for poets to die young, like Keats and Shelley, and be considered geniuses for ever. Don't hang on or you'll be laughed at behind your back, like Daddy Wordsworth. Novelists can keep going longer, but then fashion rather than age catches up with them, and their form goes, becomes out of date. When I used to interview famous novelists, I'd ask them for their best own book. It was usually the one least regarded by the world at large. Artists, you see, often don't know what it is they have. And can't understand it when it goes.
Footballers are much the same. They're training just as hard, driving the Ferrari the same route to work, putting the jock strap over their head in the same order, so what's gone wrong, they cry. Why have I lost form? Most of what they do is instinctive. Trying a certain shot from a difficult angle is as much a spontaneous reaction as it is down to training. In the condition known as loss of form, none of these instinctive reactions seems to be working.
Even worse, when loss of form arrives, players find themselves unable to do the simple things that they've practised doing all their lives. The most obvious example is their first touch. With loss of form, their body tenses, their limbs stiffen, and instead of cushioning the ball and immediately controlling it, they lose it. They lose it because they've lost it. Whatever it was.
We're not talking here about loss of form through carrying an injury or recovering from an injury. We're talking in the abstract. A touch which, out of the blue, out of the air, has dematerialised. Yes, it's connected to lack of confidence, but confidence goes after form has been lost. Making them both return, that's the hard bit. It's mystified football managers for 150 years. I'd be emeritus professor of football theory at the University of Leicester if I knew the answers, not just a humble researcher for J Burchill.
I remember asking Bill Nicholson what he did. His answer was three words - work, work, work. That was all he could ever think of doing. Back to the training ground. Work the buggers till they dropped. More recently, I asked Joe Kinnear. What he often does is rearrange the team formation, give the out-of-form player a slightly different, less onerous role, until his confidence returns. Or he might rest the player - but keep it dead secret, pretending he has an injury - thus removing him from the limelight before it gets worse and the fans get on his back.
Beckham's recent loss of form is not apparently connected with any injury, as in the case of Fowler, Owen and Kewell, though he did say he'd had the flu a few weeks ago, diddums.
Individual loss of form is often connected with a team's loss of form, but not in Beckham's case. Man U are now so ahead of the pack, they're out of sight. Nor is it connected with any personal loss of status. Being made England captain was clearly a matter of great pride.
On paper, most things could hardly have been going better for him this season. Even the Daily Mail has come round to him, seeing him as an excellent father, good husband, upholder of family values. I now expect a grovelling apology from anyone who ever suggested he might be a spoiled brat who wears nancy clothes. Even the jokes about his IQ have become affectionate.
Perhaps he needs something to go wrong, to be attacked and jeered at again. It was remarkable how he recovered from being sent off in that England game, blamed for everything, then for months afterwards he got booed at every away game. That took some doing. The boy done well, surviving all that. Perhaps Fergie should drop him, or Eriksson not pick him for the next game. That might shake him up.
Or is he just confused? Confused about his best role in the team, wondering whether he should play wide, in the middle, go forward, stay back? Or confused about his role in life. He has given off some strange signals about his sexuality over the past year.
I've suggested this to Julie. She says she's already on to it. Got 50,000 words on the subject, even before she's struggled out of bed.