A special edition of The Roaming Football Column outside of its usual Wednesday slot.
When David Beckham announced in January this year that he would be leaving Real Madrid for Los Angeles Galaxy, he crossed a line. At Real, he was (I suppose technically still is) receiving money for services rendered to one of the most important, prestigious football clubs in the world; at LA Galaxy, he will be receiving money simply for his presence, for his status, for his position as a tool of corporate marketing. By whoring himself out to the highest, most glamorous bidder, he has finally proved himself to be completely irrelevant. Anyone with even a passing interest in football should forget he ever participated in the professional game, wipe him clean from their memories and commit themselves to a footballing future devoid of ‘Becks’ and his strutting, nauseating persona.
Therefore, I cannot for a second understand why anyone would so much as consider calling for his reinstatement to the England squad. Steve McLaren’s decision to drop him was brave, and he should be congratulated for it; he saw the opportunity to do what his public-fearing predecessor had been too scared to do, and he took it, thus giving himself a strong start and challenging the majority who had never wanted him. He was signaling the start of a brave new world where celebrity was no guarantee of selection, and no one was untouchable. So I am now saddened to hear that he is considering bringing Beckham back into the fold. By going back on his decision, he would lose the respect of the players and create a degree of tension that would probably never dissipate; would he make Beckham captain again? Would he reprimand him? The truth is, he wouldn’t have the authority to do so; he would become impotent, flaccid and small, castrated by the consequences of his own indecision and the glare of the red-top media. By dropping Beckham, he announced that deadwood would not be tolerated; be recalling him he would be signaling a revocation of his principles and the loss of his power.
Due to his unfortunate accident in Real’s last game, Beckham won’t be fit to be selected for the Israel match (thank god); it appears that his weak ligaments have done the right thing and prevented McLaren from making a foolish mistake that he would surely soon regret. For if England were to play Israel with Beckham and win, it would still be a defeat for the manager, as he would never be given the freedom to pick his own squad again. He would be a token leader, controlled by the childish whims of a celebrity obsessed public who cannot see past their own blinding hypocrisy.
If Beckham were the shining light in a golden generation of England players, then perhaps calls for his restoration would be valid. But the subject of this heated debate is a man whose clinical underperformance has come to define the overriding sense of lethargy and sloth that surrounded the national team during the years of his captaincy. His leadership was never anything more than limp; he was appointed to the role by an interim manager (Graham Taylor) who rightly or wrongly reasoned that the responsibility would mature him after the petulant kick in the 1998 World Cup that made him into a national pariah. His most notable performance, against a mediocre Greek side whose players bamboozled England’s stars over ninety minutes, was frankly only stand-out because of the static, pathetic efforts put in by his teammates; he chased the ball, scored a fortuitous free-kick against a weak goalkeeper and guaranteed England’s place in a tournament in which he ultimately made the occasional run against better prepared, more motivated opposition, sweated in the noon-day Korean heat and looked blankly at the advertising hoardings around the grounds that displayed his expensive visage. Perhaps his indifferent performances can be put down to his inability to fit into an England side that was (is) always struggling to accommodate an imbalanced midfield. But this is demonstrative of his failure to adapt to changing circumstances (also indicated by his poor performances at Real). His game is strong in places but limited; he needs to have a teal built around him to ensure individual success, but he has come up against a manager who would rather (quite rightly) attempt to effectively field Lampard and Gerrard instead of sacrificing their combined talents in favour of a lacklustre Beckham (Sven’s determination to play him as the most important member of the squad was shown by his doomed ‘quarterback’ technique).
Essentially, his failure at Real, his poor performances for England and his sell-out move to Hollywood have made him a joke; instead of accepting the inevitable and retiring with a vestige of dignity, he has chosen to join what is, on a global scale, a minor team (when there were clubs like Milan vying for his signature). Why? Not because, as he says, he wants to increase the popularity of football in the USA, and maybe not even because of the money (potentially seventy thousand pounds a day). I’m of the opinion that he has adopted a deluded, whimsical view of himself hobnobbing with best pal Tom Cruise, attending soirees in the hills and regaling the attendant members of the glitterati with risqué anecdotes about Gary Neville’s exploits at right back; he seems to think that although he is in footballing purgatory, ‘Brand Beckham’ will win through and perhaps launch him into an early retirement consisting of lucrative cameos in blockbusters and boring after-dinner speech tours, entertaining wealthy soccer moms in Tulsa and Topeka, Idaho and Indiana, claiming the mid-west for football and selling t-shirts emblazoned with his gormless expression at the same time. But people aren’t interested, and his already tarnished reputation will be left in tatters. His brief resurgence in form for Real Madrid is meaningless when you consider just how much he has neglected his chosen career and let his talents become irrelevant. Putting him back in the England squad is merely a short term solution that will damage Steve McLaren’s position and put across the impression that somebody as clearly sub-par as Beckham can get back into the team on a whim. Were the red-tops looking at it objectively, they would surely come to the same conclusion, but as it is they feel a warped loyalty towards ‘Becks’, despite the fact that there are much better players ready to step in and claim his shirt. In fact, in hindsight, this article could have contained two words and two words only: Aaron Lennon. duncannichols