sport fans 88.
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Sports have a strange effect on people. Away from the stadium, sports fans may be completely normal people with regular, mature thought processes. But, put in front of an important game, once free thinking people soon become caught up in a wave of publicity and emotion which can completely cloud their better judgment.
Like in other areas of life, the media is a major influence on the views of sports fans as well as those directly involved. It's incredible to see how some people are willing to ignore the facts in front of their noses and support the viewpoint of the majority, however ridiculous it may be.
One man who has fallen foul of the negativity of popular opinion is former England soccer captain David Beckham. Six months after being ousted from the England setup by new manager Steve Mclaren, it is only now, a month before the Israel vs England Euro 2008 qualifier in Ramat Gan, that McClaren has realized how crucial Beckham can be.
While in July it seemed clear that there was no way Beckham would be amongst the England players making the trip to the Holy Land, now it looks increasingly likely he will be back in the squad in time for the big match on March 24.
Since he burst onto the scene in 1996 with a wonder goal for Manchester United against Wimbledon from the halfway line, Beckham has consistently been one of the hardest working, passionate and most impressive players on a soccer pitch. Not only has he scored great free kicks, which he has become famous for, he is a supremely skillful soccer player who inspires by his sheer presence on the field and was rightly made England captain in November 2000, a position he held for nearly six years.
But the fact that Beckham is a good looking guy who has fun with his fame, and makes a lot of money out of it, seems to have made people think it is okay to brand him a "pretty boy" who is a better model than a soccer player. His, perhaps unwise, decision to accept a lucrative offer to play for an American soccer club, the Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS, next year may have heightened this perception.
Now it seems everyone had made a big mistake. Beckham has been and still is one of the best players to have pulled on an England shirt. Even though he wasn't picked for Real Madrid for a few weeks after he announced his planned move to LA, last week Beckham began playing for Madrid again. His performance in the 3-2 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League last week was nothing short of inspiring.
This phenomenon of supporters believing the hype, or lack of it, is clearly present in Israeli soccer. At Betar Jerusalem, for example, local supporters will swear that Gal Alberman has had a rubbish season but Michael Zandberg has been great for the team. However, anyone who has watched the pair closely for the last six months would note that it is Alberman who has been most influential in the Betar midfield, generally playing a solid and intelligent game peppered with quality passing and tackling. Zandberg has been only intermittently impressive with his game full of badly timed passes and wasteful dribbles that end up in nothing.
The situation can also be reversed. Fans have such hope that a player will play well that they assume he is good, even if his performances prove otherwise.
Look at Frenchman Jerome Leroy last season. He may have played a few good matches but he was generally poor. However, the Betar fans were looking for a hero and held him up as one of the best players to ever walk on to the Teddy Stadium pitch.
There's little that can be done to reverse this problem. It's a fact of life. But sports fans should take note and do their best to think with their minds and not their emotions.
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