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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 00:31 GMT 01:31 UK
The end of the affair
By Bryn Palmer

Sir Alex Ferguson and David Beckham
Ferguson and Beckham have finally gone their separate ways

Imagine Sir Alex Ferguson, relaxing on holiday in the south of France this week.

Uncorking a bottle of vintage red, he flicks on the television for a quick update on world events.

So what confronts him? The latest atrocities in the Middle East? The war on terror? Britain's non-entry into the Euro?

The news that David Beckham is leaving Old Trafford for Spanish giants Real Madrid.

It is not hard to imagine Ferguson's reaction when he sees all this.

A quick call to Peter Kenyon perhaps to check that negotiations have indeed been successfully concluded, and then back to the Bordeaux.

397 games, 86 goals
6 Premiership titles, 2 FA Cups
1 European Cup
PFA Young Player of Year 1997
BBC Sports Personality 2001
He might recall the shy, 14-year-old East End kid that pitched up at Old Trafford in awe of his heroes.

Or the floppy-haired youth he sent to Preston in his late teens to toughen him up for the rigours of the Premiership.

The other "Fergie fledglings" - the Nevilles, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, were all local lads, but Beckham became one of them, adopted sons around whom Ferguson built his team.

"Despite what people say, I have always regarded him as a father figure," Beckham said of Ferguson this week.

But like any parent that sees their siblings outstrip their own achievements, or earn far more money than they ever did, the paternal feeling may have mutated into something else.

The idea that Ferguson is somehow jealous of Beckham seems frankly ludicrous.

David Beckham curls in a free kick against Real Madrid
Could Ferguson replace Beckham?
The celebrity lifestyle that Beckham embraces is anathema to a man brought up around the shipyards of Govan.

And yet Beckham does not drink, take drugs, fall out of nightclubs at 4am or any other excesses a millionaire footballer might routinely indulge in.

He is a dedicated trainer, supremely fit, a workhorse with an unrivalled ability to plant a dead ball where he wants.

But what must have irked the most successful manager in the English game was how the Beckham mythology often overshadowed the rest of his team.

If Ferguson ever decided to rest his right-sided midfielder, all the media and cameras focused on was the United bench, regardless of the exploits of those on the field.

Since the sensational last-minute free-kick against Greece which sent England to the World Cup finals, Beckham's status as a cultural demi-god has transcended football.

The decision to leave him out of United's Champions League match against Real Madrid - especially in favour of a half-fit Juan Veron - smacked of the personal.

A dejected-looking David Beckham heads to the substitutes bench
Beckham was unhappy at being left on the bench against Madrid
Setting aside the deterioration in their relationship over Ferguson's flailing boot in the United dressing room, Beckham's omission appeared a deliberate attempt to show that no player is bigger than the club.

You suspect Ferguson, while patently aware of Beckham's footballing qualities, tired of the whole circus that accompanies his every move.

And if he can buy a new keeper, a central defender and a South American striker with the proceeds of Beckham's 24.5m move to Spain, then maybe someone else can take the free-kicks.

Unfortunately for Beckham, the paternal pride that stirred in Ferguson waned to the point where the fortunate son was no longer welcome in his adopted home.

Will David Beckham be a hit at Real Madrid?
10068 Votes Cast
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