The Chingford twang in his voice quavered at times - and he wobbled when he mentioned his family - but David Beckham fought back the tears. For a man whose life has so often been packaged up according to the rules of global marketing, the England captain delivered his resignation speech yesterday with a simplicity that fitted the occasion.
In suit and tie, and with his words printed on two sheets of paper, he took the stage like a nervous best man contemplating his wedding speech. He apologised for the quality of what was about to follow - "bear with me, because I wrote this late last night" - and with that he brought down the curtain on six years, 58 matches and one of the most high-profile captaincies in the England team's history.
He spoke about the "absolute honour" of captaining England and the fulfilment of his "childhood dream". Beckham has always regarded his career as an exciting adventure in which he takes a heroic central role - a philosophy based on the endless optimism that things will work out. Yesterday, the spell seemed to have been broken and, at 31, he found himself on the brink of tears in a marquee in the Black Forest.
In the little village of Buhlertal in the hills of south-west Germany, seismic shifts were taking place within English football. A press presence that had grown to the size of a small army waited at England's training ground for Sven Goran Eriksson's last words. But even when he came to say goodbye, Eriksson was upstaged.
In the bitter aftermath of World Cup elimination, these were two very different farewells. With his fate sealed since April, Eriksson might have considered savaging the newspapers who have pursued him or the Football Association who drummed him out. Instead he took his secrets and recriminations with him, only hinting at his contempt for his critics and the manner in which he was forced out of the job in the aftermath of the News of the World's "fake sheikh" sting.
Beckham has played a much subtler hand. The captaincy is very dear to him but he is equally absorbed by the prospect of becoming only the fourth Englishman to win 100 caps for his country. By stepping down, he reduces the pressure on the new manager Steve McClaren to be seen to make a bold decision - and gives himself a good chance of winning the last five caps that will see him to a century.
The England captain is not inarticulate, but his regard for his own position has meant that he has come to avoid controversy to the extent that so much of what he says is rendered meaningless: this was a much more raw version of himself.
After two minutes and six seconds, Beckham walked out a side door to a smattering of applause, a beautifully choreographed final bow. There was no such exit for Eriksson, who left the TV cameras for his last meeting with the press in the next room. He begged for Wayne Rooney to be forgiven and he predicted future success for England but - confronted with the reality of his own failure - his departure was a brutal affair. He can blame his former captain for taking the last vestiges of sympathy with him.Reuse content