Beckham: The pride after the petulance

Nick Townsend says the captaincy can have a positive impact all round
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The Independent Football

From Purdah, David Beckham has made it to the promised land. The player vilified for his irresponsibilitylittle more than two years ago has come full circle. Yet it isimpossible not to conclude that the award of England cap-taincy is more of an invitation to raise his game and curb a tendency to react to aggressionthan a reward to the most suitable man.

From Purdah, David Beckham has made it to the promised land. The player vilified for his irresponsibilitylittle more than two years ago has come full circle. Yet it isimpossible not to conclude that the award of England cap-taincy is more of an invitation to raise his game and curb a tendency to react to aggressionthan a reward to the most suitable man.

For all his distinctive qualities, and his positive response to those who have berated him since that incident with Diego Simeone, is he really captain credible? England captains are men of stature, they are inspirational, they are many things, many kinds of people. They are the likes of Bobby Moore, Bryan Robson, Tony Adams. They could perhaps be Gareth Southgate and Gary Neville, among the members of Peter Taylor's squad.

It's just that it has never struck this observer that they are David Beckham. Maybe he will thrive on his receipt of the armband, which, in fairness, he wore with Sir Alex Ferguson's endorsement at Old Trafford recently. Yet, as a character who hardly suggests himself a born captain, the honour and the responsibility that attend it could even detract from his performances. Even the England caretaker coach did not appear too certain why he had named as captain a man renowned for his petulance, other than: "I just thought that David, for me, was an absolute guarantee to play and I think he deserves it".

But then, perhaps we're being a trifle anachronistic about this. Gone are the days when a captain restored order out of mayhem, and was charged with the responsibility of ensuring that his own players kept the peace. Today, captaincy appears to be more concerned with finger-jabbing, when indicating to the referee an opponent who should receive a caution, or hurling protests at an official following an erroneous decision. So, perhaps Beckham actually possesses all the right qualities.

He may have one productive role, though. The captain is, supposedly, the coach's representative on the field. It may be that, as a relatively sober and responsible individual off it, Beckham can have a beneficial influence on the players' social culture which, if suggestions are only partly correct, leaves something to be desired.

There is nothing wrong, per se, in card-playing and, to a certain extent, players will also tend to group with their own clubmates. It is how it affects team spirit that matters. And spirit - not the stuff that's poured down throats in Hong Kong dentists' chairs, but the attitude which was once synonymous with playing for your country - has not entirely been exemplary, so it is suggested by team sources. The spectacle lingers of non-playing members of the England squad, heads down in one of the stadium's cafeteria before last month's World Cup qualifier against Finland, displaying more obsession with a winning hand than the team's ability to come up trumps. Whatever game they were playing, it's a fair bet it wasn't Happy Families.

Taylor, not a card-player or gambler himself, appeared underwhelmed by the whole issue. But he said: "It's something I'll be talking to them about. Sometimes there's three- or four-hour coach journeys for teams. That's why many footballers play cards. They need their relaxation. It's not an easy one. The most important thing for me is that they're fit and well for matches."

He added: "There'll have to be some kind of time limit on cards and I don't want heavy gambling. The players have got brilliant careers. They earn good money. Sometimes, if they lose money it won't matter; if they lose a lot, it might make a difference. That would concern me. All I ask is that, when we train,their minds are completely on the job."

Taylor also confirmed that he would address the issue of rifts and cliques, but not what had apparently happened under the previous regime. "All I can do is look at the future, and the future for me is this one game," he said.

"I'm looking for the players to have tremendous team spirit. I'm looking after the side for one game, so I can't come in and go crash, bang, wallop, everything's going to be changed."

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