England last night took the nakedly political step of restoring David Beckham as captain for tonight's game against Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain, almost two years after he surrendered the honour following the team's elimination from the last World Cup.
The new manager Fabio Capello is supposed to be looking ahead to the next one and trying out potential captains for when qualifying matches begin in September. Instead he appears to have played along with the campaign to stage the competition in 2018, which is the reason England have trekked 4,500 miles for a friendly against a country they played in 2006.
Earlier in the day Jack Warner, the influential president of the Concacaf region which covers the Caribbean, warned the Football Association that English "arrogance" could cost them their chance of hosting the tournament. But he said he was prepared to support the bid, which is all the FA wanted as a reward for what is believed to be a loss-making trip. Warner, who is also a vice-president of Fifa, said: "What England needs is to have somebody like a David Beckham to be its ambassador, out there to sell the idea."
That is precisely what Beckham will be doing tonight as making him captain for the 59th time means he will start the game, winning a 102nd cap and depriving one of the younger players who will have to succeed him sooner or later of a valuable opportunity.
"Everyone knows it is one of the biggest honours you can be given to captain your country," he said. "People will always question whether I can still play at this level but I want to carry on. I have a few more wrinkles now but I still feel I can do what I did 10 years ago. People have always talked about my set-pieces and what I can bring to the team. I can bring a lot more to the team than set-pieces."
Capello denied he had been under any pressure over the captaincy, adding: "I work for the game, not for politics. That is important. Politics is for the FA. It's my decision, always – no one asked me [about it]".
It had been expected that Aston Villa's Gareth Barry would wear the armband for the first time, following Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry as the least experienced candidate to audition for the role which the latter pair are favourites to take on permanently. Barry has been urged to move to Liverpool by his long-term friend Gerrard, who is likely to partner him in the centre of midfield this evening now that Owen Hargreaves and Frank Lampard are among the seven Manchester United and Chelsea players excused the long trip.
That would allow another Villa player, Ashley Young, the chance of an appearance on the left of midfield, where he is in competition with Stewart Downing. Glen Johnson, Jonathan Woodgate and West Ham's Dean Ashton also hope to take advantage of the absence of United and Chelsea players. It is also an opportunity for Capello to take a look at Manchester City's young goalkeeper Joe Hart, as well as Gabriel Agbonlahor and Theo Walcott.
The home team may yet include Beckham's former Manchester United team-mate Dwight Yorke, but the goalkeeper Shaka Hislop is one of several players in dispute over unpaid bonus payments.
Trinidad & Tobago (possible): Ince; Cupid, Lawrence, Hislop, Farrier; Edwards, Hyland, Whitley, Daniel; Jones, John.
England (possible): Hart; Johnson, Ferdinand, Woodgate, Bridge; Beckham, Gerrard, Barry,Downing or Young; Defoe, Ashton.Reuse content