UNICEF Ambassador David Beckham visits Sierra Leone

At first sight, it looks like a celebrity spot-the-ball competition. Is the fellow to the left of David Beckham giving it a header? Is it sailing into the outstretched hand of the chap on the right? Er... no, actually: it's right there in the main picture, looking a bit dusty, down at the bottom.

Splendidly, this is not a competition in a tabloid newspaper, but a picture of David Beckham acting in his capacity as a "goodwill ambassador" for the UN children's organisation, Unicef.

The former England captain is having a kickabout with some residents of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and affecting one of his trademark poses: top off, tattoos on display, expensive designer clobber worn in reassuringly casual fashion (though surely Timberland boots went out with Vanilla Ice).

Becks could be forgiven for feeling like a fish out of water. As one of the best-paid sportsmen in history, he's used to playing in new boots and hi-tech kit on the green, green grass of the biggest and most atmospheric football pitches in the world.

If one were feeling uncharitable, one might say that taking part in a Unicef photo-op is the highest calling a modern celebrity can aspire to. Bob Geldof's done it, Angelina Jolie's done it – even Mrs Beckham's chum Geri Halliwell took a turn around the Third World patting babies.

But here, facts get in the way of weary cynicism. Beckham's four-day tour included a visit to a feeding centre in Makeni in the country's Northern Province, where he was touchingly photographed with Senyo, a five-year-old boy so badly malnourished that he can hardly walk. Makeni has the highest death rate among under-fives in Sierra Leone, which has one of the world's highest infant mortality rates. "In Sierra Leone, one in four children dies before reaching their fifth birthday," Becks said later. "It's tragic, especially when the solutions are simple. Saving these children's lives is a top priority for Unicef and as ambassador I hope I can help to draw attention to this issue."