From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.13 :: Apr. 01, 2010

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FOOTBALL / FEATURE

Goobbye Beckham

David Beckham's untimely injury will at least terminate Fabio Capello's long affliction of what one calls Beckhamitis, writes Brian Glanville.

One can only sympathise with David Beckham after his cruel and painful Achilles tendon injury, and delight in the fact that the operation, which was performed in Finland, seems to have been a success. Yet in all objectivity, it has to be said that his injury, putting him definitively out of the ensuing World Cup, has its kind of consolation. At least it will terminate Fabio Capello's long affliction of what I call Beckhamitis.

That is, continuing to pick, sometimes for farcically brief periods, a player for England who so plainly no longer has the qualities to figure on the right wing.

Truth to tell, this was already all too clearly apparent in the last World Cup in Germany in 2006, when England were managed, or mismanaged, by the hapless Sven Goran Eriksson. What pace Beckham ever had, and despite his various undoubted talents it was never exceptional, had long gone. There was no way he could perform the classic feats of a true winger by beating the opposing full back on the outside, racing to the goal line and pulling back into the middle the most dangerous pass in the game.

A winger who could unquestionably do it was Tottenham's swift young Aaron Lennon, who was used only in brief fits and substitute starts; on one occasion, when Beckham actually dropped deep to right back. This season, Lennon, after somewhat inconsistent later seasons, had been faster and better than ever on the flank for Tottenham, till, alas, a series of groin injuries put him out of the game for weeks and placed even his presence in the World Cup in doubt.

You have the impression that in due course, Capello would even put Beckham on the field on crutches. Those all too brief cameos, as they were called, won him a succession of cheap international caps which absurdly, if only statistically, enabled him to overtake Bobby Moore's proud number of 109. But Moore won those caps by playing 90 minutes a time rather than a mere ten or fifteen minutes, with the honourable exception of the World Cup final at Wembley in 1966, when with extra time, he played 120 minutes.

There is of course no doubt that Beckham has retained his formidable right foot. One instant, fearsome shot with which he recently came close to a goal for Milan at Old Trafford showed he still retains it. And even in the last World Cup, his dead ball kicks, sometimes powerful, sometimes insidious curling, got goals for England. Yet there was a high price to pay in his ineffectuality in open play.

Over the years, Beckham has been resilient in overcoming setbacks to revive and maintain his lucrative career. A nadir seemed to be reached during the World Cup finals of 1998 when, playing against Argentina, and felled by his opponent Diego Simeone, he foolishly and fearlessly took a kick at him while lying on the ground and was sent off, condemning a gallant England team to soldier on all the way through extra time with ten men; only to be beaten on penalties.

This resulted in Beckham in becoming an object of detestation, not least among the worst of England's hooligan fans, who abused him horribly, as long as two years later, after a defeat in the European Championship finals in the Low Countries. Yet by the time he was afflicted by this latest injury, Beckham had become a hero and an idol, applauded by the crowd both at Wembley and, when he went back there to play for Milan, Old Trafford.

Many of his goals have been memorable, though so have some of his misses, not least from the penalty spot, in Istanbul and Lisbon. I remember seeing him score with astonishing power almost from the half way line, playing for Manchester United at Selhurst Park. And there was the goal from a late, ingenious free kick against Greece, given it is true for a non existent foul on Teddy Sheringham which gave England an underserved draw and took them through to the World Cup finals of 2002. But though his penalty kick beat Argentina, there was also that embarrassing moment in the subsequent game also in Japan against Brazil.

Arguably, Beckham, should not really have been playing in the tournament at all, having been painfully kicked at Old Trafford in a European Cup game by his nemesis, an Argentine, breaking a metatarsal in his foot. So it was that he instinctively jumped out of the way of a tackle, enabling the Brazilian attack to sweep on and equalise Michael Owen's earlier goal.

When Beckham was used on one wing and Steven Gerrard on the other, England in fact had no effective wing play at all. Gerrard of course, whatever his unquestioned talent is a right-footed player who likes to be in the middle and constantly drifts there from the flank, which wouldn't matter so much if Capello was only able to call on Ashley Cole to function at left back where he is one of the best over-lappers in the world. But Cole's injured ankle — ironically the consequence of a clash with Everton's on loan American Landon Donovan — has put him out of action indefinitely. Ironical, because the two would almost certainly have been in direct opposition when England play the United States in their opening qualifying match in South Africa.

As it is, Capello's constant, if abbreviated use of Beckham was made more illogical by the fact that England now have solemnly bright candidates for the role. James Milner can play there or as he now does for Villa in central-midfield to great effect; or on the left wing, where he made a fine debut for England as a substitute in Holland. There is of course Aaron Lennon if fit, Theo Walcott, scorer of that hat-trick in Croatia, who is returning to form after sustained absence, on the Arsenal wing, Shaun Wright Phillips, whose pace is formidable, and now Adam Johnson, who has just joined Manchester City from Middlesbrough, a left-footer just as formidable in the right, when he recently curled in a spectacular equaliser for City, at Sunderland.

So you might say that Capello has been released, however regrettably, from his magnificent obsession. Beckham, no doubt, will continue to make vast amounts of money from his various peripheral activities; could indeed retire tomorrow with the wealth he has accumulated.



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