- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

It's being dubbed "Scar Wars" and "Bootgate" by the British media. It's the strange saga of how David Beckham, arguably the world's most famous soccer player, ended up with a cut above his left eye inflicted by his coach.
Last Saturday, the Manchester United star and England national team captain emerged from the locker room after United's bitter 2-0 F.A. Cup fifth-round loss to archrival Arsenal with a mysterious gash over his eye. A day later, word leaked out in a tabloid that United coach Sir Alex Ferguson, in a wild tantrum, had kicked a cleat that hit Beckham in the face. Remember, this is a face recognizable from Paris to Peking and even in soccer-starved America.
It's hard to imagine Doug Collins aiming a cleat at Michael Jordan. Beckham has Jordan-like status in the world beyond our borders.
Ferguson, a fiery Scotsman, said it was a freak accident and blamed a member of the Arsenal team for leaking it to the press.
The plot line of the soap opera went something like this: Ferguson aimed his tirade at Beckham for the loss against hated Arsenal, and the glamour boy answered the 61-year-old-coach with some spicy language. At that point, Ferguson, an old player himself, swung at a cleat and hit his target. After that, the two had to be pulled apart.
Ferguson has refused to apologize, and Beckham was not shy about displaying his wound to cameras while on a shopping spree a few days later with his hair conveniently swept back for the closeups.
"Tough-guy on the pitch big girlie off," the Daily Mail said.
What Ferguson did was nothing compared to the antics of D.C. United coach Ray Hudson when he was player-coach of the Edmonton Brickmen in the Canadian Soccer League more than 14 years ago. Disgusted with his team for giving up a two-goal lead and walking off the field with a 2-2 tie, Hudson threw a couple of Coke bottles into the shower.
"And they weren't plastic bottles either," Hudson said.
Hudson's most recent dust-up with a player was with Diego Serna when Hudson coached the Miami Fusion in 2001.
"I took a verbal flame-thrower to Serna," Hudson said. "After that, he went on to lead the league in goals."
At the time, Jim Rooney and Pablo Mastroeni had to pull Hudson off the Colombian forward.
"I stepped on the line then, but I didn't cross it like Ferguson did," Hudson said.
This is not the first time Ferguson, a blue-collar, old-style coach, has had a run-in with Beckham, who earns $150,000 a week and is married to Victoria Adams, a k a Posh Spice from the Spice Girls. The gritty coach has never seen eye-to-eye with Beckham's pop star wife, who is said to be more concerned with her husband's bleached blond curls than his famous curling free kicks.
Ferguson's powder keg temper is legendary. He once emptied a tea kettle over defender Phil Neville and is famous for his "hair-dryer treatment," in which he gets into a player's face and vents his anger. But now blood has been shed between the Premier League's most successful coach and its most recognizable player. From now on, Manchester United may not be big enough for both.
Although Beckham says he has forgiven his coach, pundits are predicting he could be on his way off the planet's most prestigious club. Some are suggesting the Spice Boy may move to a London club, where he would be nearer his wife and kids and his massive home which is 200 miles from Manchester and is known as "Beckingham Palace."
One report said London-based Arsenal is willing to fork out $50million to sign the 27-year-old midfielder.
It's unlikely he will go. Beckham and United are two major industries that feed off each other, generating millions in revenue. A giant marketing machine is behind Beckham, who earns millions in endorsements aside from his salary. Put Beckham's face on a product and it sells. More likely pressure could be put on Ferguson, who decided to retire last year before changing his mind, to go quietly at the end of this season.
Beckham is more valuable to United (which visits the United States on a three-game tour this summer) than Ferguson, whose crusty image may not fit in with the stylish new look of modern soccer.
For the sake of the club and fans, Ferguson and Beckham had best put the past behind them. United has a good shot at winning the coveted Champions League and is in a tough fight to claim the title back from Arsenal.
Meanwhile, the "flying boot" incident has not affected Beckham's play. On Wednesday, he let his boots do the talking as he assisted on both goals in United's 2-1 Champions League victory over Italian club Juventus.
United's game at Bolton today will be aired live on Fox Sports World at 7 a.m. and replayed throughout the day.


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