James Lawton: A Mickey Mouse milestone to cap Beckham fantasia

Appropriately or not, David Beckham's 100th cap will be achieved here in the northern suburb of St Denis, home of the Stade de France, and not up the road in Disneyland. This is just a little sad for Mickey Mouse, who may have fancied a run-out himself on seeing the morning headline most rooted in the life-enhancing fantasies of old Walt.

"Goldenballs," it declared, "to win his 100th cap, but he won't stop until he catches legend Moore."

The Moore in question is, of course, the late Robert, captain of England, winner of 108 caps, the World Cup, and the respect of every opponent down from the uniquely competitive Pele, who, after their soaring duel in Guadalajara in 1970, tore off his shirt and entered an embrace known only to the bravest and the best of warriors.

Also in the firing line, of course, is another Robert, Sir Bobby Charlton, who scored more goals than any other Englishman in international football, won the World Cup and was told that his 106th cap would be his last immediately after he had guided England into a winning position against West Germany in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final, only to be pulled off because, in the one great aberration of his brilliant career, Sir Alf Ramsey wanted to keep him fresh for the semi-final against Italy.

The trouble with Beckham's self-promotion and the sentimentality which has swept him to tonight's milestone here is that it appears to owe no debt to the reality of football history, the smidgeon of it his career represents and the mountainous scale of those of men like Moore and Charlton.

Counting caps becomes a ludicrous exercise that cannot begin to be supported by some of the self-serving nonsense Beckham has been delivering to a breathless audience these last few days.

Here he is on the great goal of surpassing Charlton and Moore, the dream fashioned in the minor league parks of North American football: "I actually started playing with even more passion and I didn't think that was possible. It's important to carry on. I want to take it beyond that [100 caps]. I'm very honoured to be in the same category as some of the greats of the game, players I've looked up to throughout my entire career. But I want to take it beyond that."

Beyond what, precisely? Beyond the meaning of Moore and Charlton and other authentic legends like Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews and Jimmy Greaves and Johnny Haynes, who in those days when Sven Goran Eriksson wasn't tossing England caps around like so much confetti, never assumed on any one day they had a right to a single cap, let alone 100? Nat Lofthouse isn't a bad case in point. He played 33 times for England, scored 30 goals and will always be known as "the Lion of Vienna", for a performance of unforgettable courage in a shrine of a stadium in the Prater woods.

Now we are told of the desire and the belief and the unbreakable spirit of David Beckham – not so unbreakable, sadly, when he jumped out of the tackle that set up the move for Brazil's equaliser in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final – and some of the great moments of his England career are listed.

They do make for exhaustive reading. The free-kick against Greece. The penalty against Argentina. When you set them against three World Cups and two European Championships of the most minor impact, two of them played while plainly unfit, the last one concluded in tears of self-pity and the abandoned captaincy, it is all the harder to credit the suggestion that somehow Beckham might be closing on the places in the pantheon occupied by Moore and Charlton.

Those who believe that Fabio Capello represents a return to more enduring values, and assessments of individual playing merit, may be a little disappointed that he appears to have swallowed so much of the Beckham hype, especially after the impressive debut of David Bentley in his first start against Switzerland, but they should perhaps allow him a little ground to work through what can only be described as "the English phenomenon".

The suspicion here is that Capello has been utterly bemused by the clamour for Beckham's 100th cap. He knows the quality of Beckham's passing and dead-ball kicking and he brought him back into the title-winning run of Real Madrid once the player had convinced him of his fitness, but then he also had no compunction in withdrawing him from the decisive match in which Real trailed while Beckham was on the field.

As he attempts to build a new England, Capello probably reflects that the Beckham bandwagon, which is hitched so far from significant club football action, could never happen in his native Italy and a football society rather more sophisticated, if not riotously cynical. So he gives to Beckham what a soccer nation which has so wretchedly underachieved for nearly 40 years believes is his due and resolves, you have to guess, to return to the serious business of making a team at the first opportunity.

Meanwhile, other members of the "golden" generation such as Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Michael Owen are required to prove their worth without the massive backing Beckham can call upon simply by announcing a press conference. Despite the conflicting evidence of the Beckham decision, it seems that Capello is attempting to create a team culture where the importance of performance at last outstrips the force of reputation and celebrity.

He has been sharply impressed by the competitive "authority" of Gareth Barry and Rio Ferdinand is rewarded for some stunning performances for Manchester United with a trial run at the captaincy. Some of Ferdinand's antecedents, including his failure to take a drugs test and some responsibility for the grotesque United Christmas party, do not scream leadership. But then his rival John Terry's off-field behaviour has scarcely been faultless and it may be that Ferdinand, on his day arguably the world's most polished defender, has felt the tug of a more serious destiny.

This, at least, is something we may be able to cherish here in the extended parish of Mickey Mouse.

Centurions of English football

PETER SHILTON (125 caps) Made his debut in the 3-1 victory against East Germany in 1970 and bowed out in the 1990 World Cup third-place play-off. Would have won even more caps had it not been for Ray Clemence in the 1970s.

BOBBY MOORE (108) His first cap came in a 1962 World Cup warm-up against Peru. Led England to the 1966 World Cup victory and won his last cap in friendly against France in 1973.

BOBBY CHARLTON (106) Made his debut in 1958 and is still England's record goalscorer with 49. His swansong, infamously, was his substitution during the 1970 World Cup quarter-final.

BILLY WRIGHT (105) Inaugural member of the 100 club for any country, he won his first cap in 1946 and led England at three World Cups before retiring in 1959.

News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003