David Beckham is a shock contender to be named England captain for tomorrow's friendly against Trinidad & Tobago. The game has been arranged so that the Football Association can secure the vote of the Caribbean nation's influential grandee Jack Warner for its 2018 World Cup bid and Beckham making a token return to the captaincy is regarded as a way of winning over Fifa.
Beckham quit the England captaincy after elimination from the 2006 World Cup and made his comeback to the team only when Steve McClaren recalled him against Germany in August. Warner is the president of Concacaf (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) and is one of only 24 men who will vote on who will host the 2018 World Cup. He has already been pictured meeting Beckham off the team plane in the local press.
Although Fabio Capello is not given to cheap publicity stunts, a one-match captaincy for Beckham would enable Warner, who was involved in a 2006 World Cup ticketing scandal, to be seen glad-handing the most famous footballer on the planet. The England manager is thought to be considering the idea. He has given Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry the chance to prove themselves as potential long-term captains.
Beckham won his 101st cap against the United States on Wednesday and will be a key part of the FA's 2018 World Cup bid as it develops over the next few years. His popularity even on this Caribbean island was obvious at an open training session in Port of Spain yesterday when his every touch was met with applause and cheers by the locals.
Steven Gerrard gave Liverpool's boardroom warring factions a reminder yesterday that while they battle for control of the club, the manager, Rafael Benitez, must not be denied funds for his transfer targets. The Liverpool captain made his most public plea yet for the club to tie up a deal for his fellow England midfielder Gareth Barry, of Aston Villa, who is also in Trinidad ahead of tomorrow's friendly.
Gerrard talked after a training session in which he and Barry were partnered in centre midfield – a likely feature of Capello's side to play Trinidad & Tobago. The midfielder's mind, however, was fixed on how he hoped that Liverpool will be able to resolve their current stalemate between the co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks to allow Benitez the opportunity to sign Barry and others over the next few months.
"Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal ... every time I read a paper they're linked with all kinds of different players," Gerrard said. "I hope Liverpool strengthen as well and we can stay up there in the top four and push those sides for the title because, at the moment, we're still a little bit off.
"It's anticipation. I'm desperate for that yellow line to go across Sky [Sports News] with a big signing for Liverpool. I spoke to the manager at the end of the season and I know he's got targets who he's trying to bring in. Hopefully, come the beginning of the season, we'll have the targets we want and we don't miss out on them and have to go for players who are second on the list."
It might have been politely framed but the significance will not be lost on Rick Parry, the Liverpool chief executive, or Hicks and Gillett. It is not the first time that Gerrard has warned the club that they need to keep pace with his ambition, although the situation looks particularly grim this summer, with Liverpool's ownership dispute putting them in danger of slipping even further behind United and Chelsea in particular.
Benitez has told his captain that, in the current circumstances, he will have to raise funds through sales if he wants to make a significant investment.
Martin O'Neill, the Aston Villa manager, will not take kindly to Gerrard's overt play for Barry, who has been a long-term target for Liverpool. The midfielder wants to make the move but the clubs are a long way from agreeing a fee.
"I know all about Gareth, I'm good friends with him off the pitch and I'm desperate for us to sign him," Gerrard said. "He's a good player and, when you talk about strengthening the team and the squad, Gareth would certainly help Liverpool to be a better team next season. It's easy to play with good players.
"I've been asked a lot of questions this year about [Fernando] Torres and the simple answer is that it's easier as a player when you're playing with quality players. Gareth comes into that category. He's been a fantastic servant to Aston Villa but, in football, sometimes opportunities come along where you can better your career. Gareth is 27 now and I think he needs to play Champions League football."
The Swiss right-back Philipp Degen is Liverpool's only signing so far this summer, on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund. The Udinese left-back Andre Dossena also seems to be on his way. Benitez has decided to sell Peter Crouch, Scott Carson, Jermaine Pennant and John Arne Riise, among others, but has priced himself out the market by quoting absurdly high fees for them, with no resolution on their futures imminent.
Capello has given his players no indication yet who will get the final chance to audition for the role of captain tomorrow – before he makes his decision for the Czech Republic friendly on 20 August.
Barry was thought to be the first choice but Capello is not giving anything away, including his team. The Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart and the Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor could be in line to make a debut for England tomorrow but, under Capello, nothing is certain.
Dean Ashton is a contender to make his England debut at some point, 22 months after he broke his ankle in a training session under McClaren. The subsequent two seasons have been difficult for the West Ham striker but he said yesterday that he believed he could be a potential partner for Wayne Rooney – politely ignoring the reality that if Rooney keeps playing the way he did against the United States on Wednesday he will not be a fixture in this England team.
"It's a real chance for us to stake our claim and, hopefully, I will get a chance to do that," Ashton said. "I like to think that I play for the team and for another striker who plays with me, I like to provide as well as score goals for myself. I always feel that if I do get a chance to play that I can score goals, which is the main thing."
The leading men for Trinidad & Tobago
The Colombian has managed Trinidad & Tobago since January. He took Colombia to two World Cup finals, 1990 and 1994. Before the second of those his team beat Argentina 5-0. Their subsequent failure may have contributed to the murder of Andrés Escobar who scored an own goal in a group game against USA.
A striker who began his career at Trinidad’s Joe Public FC before moving on to one of the island’s biggest sides, Vibe CT 105 Williams Connection, who are sponsored by local radio. Roy Keane signed him for £6m in the summer from Southampton and he has been one of Sunderland’s successes this season.
A Trinidadian who, like David Beckham, has 101 caps for his country but the comparisons end there. He was part of the deal that took Kenwyne Jones to Sunderland, going in the other direction to Southampton where he scored twice in their final game against Sheffield United that meant they avoided relegation to League One.