David Beckham's international career was brought to a spectacular end yesterday when Steve McClaren revealed he told the former captain that his face no longer fitted under the new England regime. "I was planning for the future and a different direction," McClaren said, "and David wasn't included in that."
The England manager, who has already earned the nickname "Mac the knife" has chosen his first squad announcement to make the deepest cut of all. Yesterday, Beckham released a statement in which he pledged to continue fighting for his place in the team, but it is understood that McClaren has told the 31-year-old that he will not consider picking him again.
It was a day that was supposed to be about the future - about the new captain John Terry and assistant manager Terry Venables - but in the end McClaren's first squad announcement, to face Greece on Wednesday, was all about the past. It was about the demise of one of the most high-profile football careers in the history of the English game and how this relatively uncelebrated, unknown England manager destroyed, at a stroke, any suggestion that he is just another Sven Goran Eriksson.
McClaren was remarkably cool in his description of the conversation that brought the curtain down on Beckham's 10 extraordinary years with the England team. He called him before Beckham departed for America with Real Madrid on Monday and yesterday the erstwhile England captain was dolefully practising corners on his own in a stadium in Salt Lake City while, on the other side of the world, the news of his demise was digested.
"I spoke with David on Monday, notified him of my decision and said I was planning for the future," McClaren said. "I said I was looking to bring in new faces, go in a different direction and David wasn't included within that. Of course it was difficult, because of the player David is and the working relationship we'd always had over many years, the respect I've got for him and he has for me.
"It was always going to be difficult and a big decision but I felt it was one I had to make. It would have been more difficult if we did not have the relationship and respect for each other. It was the sort of conversation that happens in football quite a few times. Things do move on and that's what I said and he accepted.
"I'm looking to take this team in a different direction, it's a new direction, a new era and a clean sheet of paper for everybody, which is why I decided not to pick David Beckham. It was just a decision I felt I had to make when I was looking to the future of two years, four years. I'm a believer in the development of young players and giving them their head. They've deserved it."
McClaren tried to evade the question of whether there is a chance for Beckham to play international football again - with a nervous slip of the tongue he said the door "will never be open" before correcting himself.
Despite being told otherwise, Beckham responded with a statement in which he said that he understood a new manager had to "make his mark" - suggesting he had been made an example of - and that his desire to play "remains strong". Beckham is understood to have reacted calmly during McClaren's phone call, although he was hurt and shocked by the decision.
"David's reaction was exactly the one I expected from Becks," McClaren said. "He's got pride and was disappointed but said he understood and wanted to fight for his place. He's got to do what he said he would do - perform as best he can at Real Madrid and hope the door is open enough."
It will do nothing to improve Beckham's mood to know that the only manager McClaren quoted in support of his new approach was the midfielder's former mentor, now nemesis, Sir Alex Ferguson. "Alex always said at Manchester United that you have to go through the fire to be ready to win," McClaren said. He was referring more to the disappointment of previous tournaments than the decision to leave out Beckham but it seemed to fit both situations.
"Anybody who knows me knows I'm straight down the line; very, very honest and just want things done professionally, just get down to winning football matches," McClaren said. "I wanted to put my own mark on it because I'm going to be my own man and do things my way.
McClaren has also effectively ended the international careers of Sol Campbell and David James by not selecting them, though he repeated the mantra about the door not being closed.
Wayne Rooney will not feature in next Wednesday's game because he has a groin injury and, McClaren said, Manchester United wanted to get him fit for their first game of the season against Fulham. Back into the squad come Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jermain Defoe, Kieran Richardson, Phil Neville, Wes Brown, Luke Young, Michael Dawson, Chris Kirkland and Darren Bent. Dean Ashton and goalkeeper Ben Foster are included for the first time.
With only 14 of the 23-strong World Cup squad involved, McClaren has put the accent on youth. "With the issue of how we're going to play, with Lennon, Wright-Phillips, Richardson and Downing, I like width and pace," he said. "The advantage I've had is I've worked with these players and seen the young players coming through. I've got the job and I want to do it my way, take my decisions and live or die by them."
The life and times of an England footballing hero
April 1995 Full Man United league debut against Leeds.
Sept 1996 England debut in the 3-0 win in Moldova.
May 1999 Helps United to complete the treble.
July 1999 Marries Victoria Adams.
Nov 2001 Becomes England captain.
October 2001 Goal sends England to the World Cup.
2002 World Cup Scores in 1-0 win against Argentina.
July 2003 Moves to Real Madrid for £25m.
2006 World Cup Becomes only Englishman to score in three World Cups.
World Cup 1998 Sent off in 2-2 draw with Argentina.
February 2003 Hit by Alex Ferguson's "flying boot" in dressing-room incident. October 2005 First England captain to be sent off, first English player to be red-carded twice.
June 2006 Limps off as England knocked out on penalties against Portugal. Resigns captaincy.
August 2006 Dropped from England squad.
* THE FIGURES
Caps 94 Goals 17
Games as captain 58