Soy un perdedor, I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you....erm....celebrate me?
The forlorn figure of Fernando Torres has become ever more commonplace when watching Chelsea as his five-month goal drought drags on. The Madrid born forward was not so long ago one of the most feared and revered strikers in world football. His fall from grace has been well-documented, whether it be a refusal to take a potentially confidence boosting penalty, the loss of his international place or just depressing stats such as the fact that since January 2011Torres has had more managers than he has scored goals. The Spaniard has been under the spotlight relentlessly since his £50million move to Stamford Bridge and with every poor performance (or good performance absent of goals) his demeanour has taken on more and more that of a meagre lamb than one a ruthless goal-hungry talisman he once was. Every touch looks laboured, every chance squandered as the magical is replaced by the almost mediocre. The question of why such a slump in performance has occurred is one that has become monotonously over-asked and is a quandary I am content to let others fritter away their time surmising over. Instead, the plight of Fernando Torres has conjured up memories, and fond ones at that, of another hapless striker; the (not so great) Dane, Mikkel Beck.
Of course the two aforementioned players’ careers and respective abilities are vastly different. Torres has operated at the elite level of the game his whole career and until relatively recently had forged a reputation as one of the world’s finest strikers. He is the owner of both World Cup and European Championship winner’s medals. Beck has no major honours and operated on a much lower plain throughout his professional career. However, Torres’ recent form of no goals in his last twenty-six appearances and only three in thirty-seven for Chelsea is rather Beck-esque. The pair also share a certain Androgyny to their appearance, with long blonde hair and a somewhat feminine visage.
Beck’s appearance allegedly caused one of his Middlesbrough team-mates to refuse to get changed in front of him over alarm of what he felt was his teammates sexual preference. Quite what the anonymous Middlesbrough player in question thought would happen if he was to get changed in front of a gay man, which for the record Beck is not, only he knows. All the same, the despondent stature of Fernando Torres has triggered a reminiscent musing on the career of an admittedly loosely comparable football figure.
Beck started his football career with Odense based Boldklubben 1909 playing one season in the Danish Superliga where despite scoring only two goals in 13 appearances he caught the eye of Bundesliga 2 club Fortuna Koln. Despite, a rather modest goal scoring record for Fortuna Beck received international recognition and after scoring all three of his international goals in his first six appearances secured his place in the squad for Euro 96. It was to be a fruitless expedition for Beck, and his nation who were holders after a surprise triumph at the 1992 championships.
Nevertheless, England was where Beck was to remain as he was signed by Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough subsequent to the tournament. Steve Gibson’s financial backing provided the Teesside club with an exciting foreign legion including stars such as Fabrizio Ravanelli and the Brazilian duo of Junihno and Emerson. It was under this sizeable shadow which Beck arrived less audibly but still with talk of him being ‘The New Laudrup.’ It was never stipulated which Laudrap in particular, but it proved pretty academic anyway as Beck was to attest himself a considerably lesser talent than both Michael and Brian. Beck scored a measly ten goals in fifty premier league games for Middlesbrough. Following relegation in his first season he fared slightly better in the second tier as he formed a partnership with Paul Merson securing a return to the Premier league for Middlesbrough at the first time of asking.
Beck was plying his trade in era when the great Ronaldo was coming to prominence with incredible scoring feats for PSV and then Barcelona. Raul Gonzalez was displaying mercurial talent which would endure for over a decade. Ajax had crafted a squad of home-grown players oozing with talent and the brilliance of Batistuta, Del Piero, Totti and Weah were lighting up Serie A. On our own shores fans could delight in the lustre of Cantona, the striking prowess of Shearer, the flare of Asprilla and the influx of world stars such as Gullit, Vialli and Klinsmann. All of the aforementioned were mesmerising and thrilling in equal measure for an on-looking boy jaw-a-gape helping to forge a perpetual fascination with the sport. Yet performances of mediocrity similarly stuck in the mind. An enormous amount of enjoyment is taken from the captivating acts of the game’s elite performers however they make up only a minute fraction of people who play the game.
It is an incredible strength of football that even when played to a lesser standard, when failure is more common place and weaknesses more abundant it can still be engrossing. It is for that very reason that the figure of Mikkel Beck fascinated me. He was like a poster boy for mediocrity, an icon for the inferior renowned for performances with little end result. He was by no means the worst player to ever grace the English top flight, (Graeme Souness look away now) Ali Dia anyone? Yet his clear ineptness was weirdly absorbing. Beck was voted as Derby’s worst ever player by the clubs fans but even that verdict is tinged with a degree of humour.
If Beck arrived at Middlesbrough as ‘The New Laudrup’ he arrived at Derby as the ‘new Jon Dahl Tomasson’ (Tomasson was a fellow Dane who had a dire solitary season in England for Newcastle). It is doubtful any Derby fans ever expected much from his signing and were proven right by a string of poor performances yielding just 2 goals in 18 games. Beck had lived up to his now almost cult reputation for barren form in front of goal and in fact his performances were so abject Derby felt comfortable loaning him to local rivals Nottingham Forest.
Maybe I was just too young and naive to realise but I cannot recall any significant abhorrence for Mikkel Beck from the Derby fans more just a sense of laughable bemusement at first his singing and secondly his performances. It’s possible to argue that in an era where pressure on players and managers has grown as the stakes of matches have been amplified the response to Beck’s misfortunes may be more vitriolic. Similarly, they may be ignored altogether as the hyperbole of the Premier League and Champions League has championed the cause of elitism and left less room for appreciation of feats lesser in technical aptitude but nonetheless still part of football’s rich tapestry. It was simply intriguing how a player so clearly average could be operating in one of the world’s top leagues and internationally.
Following a further loan spell at QPR Beck returned to his native Denmark to play for Aalborg BK in a loan spell which yielded an uncharacteristically efficient eight goals in ten matches and a runners-up medal in the Danish Cup Final. It was enough to convince Bo Johansson that Beck should be included in Denmark’s squad for Euro 2000, which despite a spurt in form, was a somewhat curious decision leaving one questioning the state of the other strikers available to Jansen at the time. Evidently, they were clearly not up to much as Denmark exited at the group stage for a second championship running without even registering a goal.
Beck made two substitute appearances which were to be his last for his country, before signing for French Ligue 1 outfit OSC Lille in the summer of 2000. He made 33 appearances for Lille and a further twelve for Aalborg in a second loan spell scoring just nine more senior goals in form consistent with pretty much his whole career. The icon of inferiority finally bowed out in 2004 retiring mainly through injury.
Obviously Fernando Torres will never be mentioned in the same breath as Mikkel Beck however long his dismal form continues. Hopefully, ‘El Nino’s’ turning point lies just round the corner. Nonetheless, I can’t help feeling as if someone needs to step up.
You can follow Tom on Twitter @tprhodes.