It is 11.08pm local time and David Beckham takes to the field. It is possibly the latest substitute appearance he has ever made, even if he came on at half-time. But also the most precious. A 108th appearance for England, equalling the record, for an outfield player, set by Bobby Moore.
Beckham has inched his way to the record, piece by piece, cameo appearance after, for many, infuriating cameo. Short bursts, snatches of minutes including the three he grabbed as a late replacement in Minsk last autumn, six against Croatia and another 11 versus the might of Kazakhstan.
He has devalued the record, it is said. Sullied it. It is a long time since he has been central enough to start a game for his country while, for another large number of those England appearances, he has failed to play for 90 minutes. He has failed on the big stage. Moore won a World Cup and graced two others. The impression Beckham has left at the major tournaments has been of disappointment and distraction, a sending-off against Argentina, the obsession with the progress of a broken metatarsal.
The arguments will rage. Sure, he is not the same player as Moore, but he has, at 33, pushed his way firmly back into the plans of the England manager Fabio Capello. The Italian is not one to be big on sentiment. Reputations mean nothing. Value to the squad. Contribution, attitude, intelligence. But reputation. No. Frank Lampard? Last night he also started on the bench. Matthew Upson, who could have expected to begin the game in Rio Ferdinand's absence? A substitute also.
It is said by some that Capello may feel he "owes" Beckham for the way he responded to being dumped at Real Madrid – by Capello, of course – only to buckle down, work hard, not complain and, in the end, win that elusive Spanish league title and be a significant part of that unlikely triumph. Beckham was back in Spain last night and as he warmed up the Seville fans barracked and whistled but busily snapped away on the camera phones. A strange combination.
A record equalled meant nothing to them but it will have meant something to Beckham that it was earned against the team that Fifa ranks as the best in the world and in a country where he used to play and left with a modicum of unfinished business. It was after Capello's exile of Beckham that he decided to move to the US, affording Steve McClaren the opportunity to end that international career that he then revived.
Last night, with Beckham on loan at Milan and hoping for a permanent move to Serie A once that deal has expired at the beginning of March, there was another slice of drama. Major League Soccer gave his club LA Galaxy the deadline of tomorrow to resolve Beckham's request to leave in his attempt to stay in Capello's plans and play in next summer's World Cup – his fourth, one ahead of Moore.
In a letter to Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG, the entertainment conglomerate that owns Galaxy, the MLS Commissioner Don Garber said it would be "impossible" for Beckham to leave if his future is not finalised by the end of this week. Milan are urging Beckham to force his way out, which may include buying out the final months of his deal before the October break clause which allows him to depart for nothing.
The move, according to Ferdinand earlier this week, has "rejuvenated" Beckham. But his first touch last night was to chest the ball straight to the excellent Xavi Hernandez. England were getting the runaround. They were not playing badly, but were facing a superior team. Formidable and fluid. The passing moves were far more rhythmic, a lot more metronomic than the sporadic outbreak from the drums and brass bands around the stadium.
Beckham scuffed an attempt at one of those eye-catching, cross-field passes, but then executed another to the feet of Shaun Wright-Phillips to chisel out a rare chance for England. It was close to midnight by then but time has still not been called upon the career of David Beckham.Reuse content