Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Beckham Equation

Sven heaped scorn upon himself by taking Theo Walcott to Germany, and then giving him all of nought minutes on the pitch; but McClaren's own hubristic axing of Beckham in the immediate aftermath looks like its only just coming home to roost.

With Beckham restored from exile at Madrid (despite the red card), likable Steve has signalled that a bit of back-tracking may replace his usual soft-shoe shuffle ("As I always say, let's look at the positives...") by hinting at an International recall for Los Cojones de Oro.

It seemed plangently unfair that Beckham became the straw man for all of England's underachievements at the World Cup, and by slamming the door with such vigour on the Real Madrid man, McClaren invited this very situation to turn up in his backyard. There seemed a touch of vindictiveness, however unintended, in effectively denying Beckham the chance to win the 100th cap he craved, and in the wake of Massimo Maccarone's vituperative dissection of McClaren's man-management skills, you've got to wonder about the coach's wisdom in so publicly ejecting the erstwhile captain out into the cold.

To claim that Beckham could no longer cut it at international level after the desultory German affair is one thing - but that thesis would in turn have to implicate pretty much every other member of the squad, barring perhaps Joe Cole and Owen Hargreaves. At 31, he is hardly over the hill, and with the level of professionalism that he brings to his preparation one could argue that he still has several years left at the top. Granted, this period will now largely be played out amid the more parochial surroundings of the MLS; but having weathered a separate period of acrimony in the Spanish capital and come back strongly, the public and the press would do well not to underestimate perhaps the most talented midfielder of his generation.

Yes, Beckham's aspect and lifestyle at times invite contempt, and for a footballer with such an ability to strike a ball, the number of occasions on which his contributions have actually decided the course of a match have been too few. But in an era when footballers rarely earn their keep, Beckham gave his heart and soul, as well as his legs and lungs, to the English cause. Only Steven Gerrard can offer a similar galvanising effect, and even his powers appear muted when compared to some of Beckham's moments of inspiration (at their most mythic, of course, when firing England into World Cup 2002 with a blistering last-minute free-kick against Greece). Perhaps he was too cosseted by Sven, and that lack of competition may have contributed to the torpor which afflicted him as much as anyone during the summer. Yet he surely deserved better than to be inelegantly tossed aside. For all his sins, it was not Beckham who missed a penalty against Portugal.

If McClaren can see his way clear to rotating around the axis of his convictions (which I'm sure he will be able to do), I expect Beckham to contribute up to, if not including, the next European Championships (providing they qualify). Golden Balls is up for it; the only real question for Ruddy Steve should be: is he?

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