Talking Sport With Neil Trainis
PUBLISHED: 12:25 31 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:10 02 July 2010
2007 Getty Images
THOSE looking for an iconic figurehead who has encapsulated the essence of English football more than anyone else in the last decade need look no further than David Beckham. Supporters from numerous countries, not just England, have plenty of images to fi
THOSE looking for an iconic figurehead who has encapsulated the essence of English football more than anyone else in the last decade need look no further than David Beckham.
Supporters from numerous countries, not just England, have plenty of images to fill the memory banks when reflecting on the career of a man who, time and again, has proven his nation's saviour.
Who could forget a 23-year-old, fresh-faced Beckham scoring his first England goal with a viciously swerving free-kick against Colombia at France 98, the type of dead ball effort for which he would go on to earn repute.
What about a similar strike in the dying seconds against Greece at Old Trafford that saved England from failing to make the 2002 World Cup finals or the way he helped orchestrate the 5-1 hammering of Germany in Munich. The list goes on.
Time spent in the international arena saw him emerge as a leader of men, and not only during the 58 games he captained England.
He has been the carrier of his country's hopes and the bearer of huge pressures and responsibilities that come with being one of the most famous sporting celebrities on the planet.
Yet a huge factor in the furore which has surrounded Beckham is that he has been much more than a famous footballer. He has been a talisman for a nation frantically looking for someone to engross and excite them since Paul Gascoigne's career grinded to a halt.
Few footballers have made their sport as appealing as they have done. Their off-field profiles differed inexorably but the two men brought together the different creeds, religions and races that make up the cultural melting pot that is Great Britain through their ability with a football.
Nobody can deny Beckham made football alluring and fashionable again, especially with youngsters, in the wake of Gascoigne's disappearance from the international scene and the intense disappointment that shrouded the nation after England's failure to win Euro 96.
Indeed, has there ever been a sportsman or woman whose influence has impacted so dramatically on society as a whole?
After all, who else can persuade youngsters to change their hairstyles at the drop of a hat? Who else has had the power to get kids practicing free-kicks in the backyard, in the park or anywhere they can kick a football about? Who has had the same pulling power?
At the grand old age of 32, Beckham can look back at the 11-and-a-half years since he made his debut for England in a World Cup qualifier in Moldova with great satisfaction though, ever the competitor, he probably won't be content with his life's work.
Football has afforded him with a lavish lifestyle but he has been as good for football as football has for him. He made it trendy but substance, not fashion, is what a national team entering a new era need.
As Fabio Capello prepares to name his first England squad on Saturday for a fixture with Switzerland at Wembley on February 6, there are opportunities to dust away the cobwebs and set in motion the team's resurgence.
That means out with the old, in with the new. Some may see Beckham's exclusion as harsh, given that he hangs on 99 caps, but as ruthless as it sounds, Capello should leave him out of his squad and bring his international career to an end.
The time to blood the untried has come and that means injecting England with pace, trickery and a freshness that can only be obtained by discarding those who have meandered past their sell-by dates.
Beckham's dedication to his discipline has never been in doubt. He proved Capello was wrong to ditch him at Real Madrid by returning to the side and spearheading their title success and during the MLS close season, has trained with Arsenal to ensure he is fit for national duty.
His match sharpness is another matter but that should form only part of Capello's reason for omitting him.
Beckham's crosses remain potent but the modern game places greater physical demands on wide players, who are expected to surge past opponents and whip balls in from open play, not only from set-pieces.
Beckham has never been renowned for beating players, either through pace or skill, and he has not needed to, with his ability to deliver from any area. Yet Capello must look to younger legs.
David Bentley, Ashley Young, Aaron Lennon, and perhaps Jermaine Pennant, should be considered as viable competitors to Shaun Wright-Phillips for the right midfield berth.
Experimentation should also include Mark Noble and Giles Barnes in the central area and Gabriel Agbonlahor, Dean Ashton and Theo Walcott up front.
Their inclusion could be made at the expense of Michael Owen, whose goals against Israel and Russia during the failed Euro 2008 qualifying campaign should not disguise his lack of sharpness or form for Newcastle.
It is doubtful Owen will ever return to the striker whose finishing dismantled Germany in their own back yard in a World Cup qualifier.
For Beckham, the prospect of reaching 100 caps is romantic but should not deny an exciting prospect the opportunity to further taste international football. There is no room for sentimentality. England's rebuilding must start in earnest.