James Lawton: Beckham should take Moore's example as blueprint for strong leadership

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The Independent Football

Driving into this capital through parched hills which so recently shook with artillery fire, and remembering the passion which Macedonia brought to the task of so deeply embarrassing England in Southampton last year, was not the most tranquillising experience.

You were bound to speculate on the degree of leadership and fight England will produce in the European Championship qualifying game at the Gradski stadium tomorrow night. It is, after all, a part of the world where since the days of Alexander the Great the notion of fighting to the death has been not so much a choice as an obligation.

This, despite the fact that England are hoping to be led by a David Beckham who has risen to such eminence that the entire nation is apparently put on red alert when his plane is diverted not to some exploding hell hole but Stansted, is troubling. The source of the concern is one of the pages of his autobiography that these last few days has been devouring whole forests of newsprint.

Here is Beckham, the hero leader who was so extravagantly lauded when he scored the free-kick against Greece that earned England automatic qualification to last year's World Cup, on the most critical phase of his captaincy of England: "The look on the players' faces said it all. 'We're knackered. We've nothing left.' We came out for the second-half with our belief and energy drained."

No prizes for guessing the match in question. It was the biggest World Cup game England had played since Beckham was sent off for his mind-numbing flick at the Argentinian agent provocateur Diego Simeone, a disaster which Beckham explains was the fault of the former England coach, Glenn Hoddle, who had tipped off the Argies that the young England midfielder's temperament might be questionable in a pressurised situation.

According to Beckham, England had no belief or energy when they went out for the second half against Brazil in the World Cup quarter-final in Shizuoka. They were drained. But how could this be if Beckham was the hero leader of the team who had been voted the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year by a landslide for the free-kick which redeemed a wretched England performance against lowly Greece?

The harsh but irresistible point is that the team's sense of combative will could not have been much enhanced by the sight of their captain jumping out of a tackle - and then watching Ronaldinho stream away with the ball before supplying Rivaldo with the perfect chance on the stroke of half-time to equalise Michael Owen's goal.

A comparison with the effort and style of one of Beckham's predecessors in arguably one of the greatest World Cup matches ever played was perhaps inevitable.

When in 1970 against Brazil Bobby Moore led England so magnificently in a game which was lost 1-0 only after some unforgettable passages of play - not least Gordon Banks' phenomenal save to thwart Pele - the consensus was that no team could have received such inspiration from its captain. Pele and Moore embraced in the draining sunshine. The kick-off had been at a Mexican high noon for the benefit of European television. There had been no talk of failed belief.

But it seems that when you are David Beckham you can re-arrange history so it fits neatly around your aura. Also in his autobiography is a description of a talk he had with Paul Gascoigne shortly before the latter was banished from the 1998 World Cup. Gazza said that Beckham was a great player and a great lad. In return, Beckham says that Gascoigne should have played in that World Cup - his omission was as reprehensible as Hoddle pointing out to the Argentinians about how they might profitably provoke one of England's key players. Beckham says that England missed Gazza's brilliance - and nerve. Almost everyone else except Beckham, and Gascoigne's coterie of showbiz admirers, seemed to know that a once brilliant talent was unravelling.

All this woolliness needs to be trimmed like a fleece from one of the sheep scrabbling for sustenance on the surrounding hills here.

Beckham has to put away the hubris of recent days, which was bizarrely augmented by this week's suggestion by Real Madrid's coach Carlos Queiroz, formerly of Old Trafford, that the likes of Ronaldo, Figo, Raul and Zinedine Zidane have competitive things to pick up from their new team-mate. World Cup and multiple European Cup winners have to learn from Beckham, the celebrity king. It is a stunning, disorientating proposition.

Macedonia may not be in the front rank of football nations but they have already proved that they have the fire and the wit to separate England from their more flaccid illusions.

Tomorrow, England need the best of Beckham, not the show-boating and the easily abandoned belief that we saw when England were "drained" in a World Cup quarter-final. They need Beckham inflicting all of his skill, which is concentrated on his right foot and provides, at its best, superb crosses, free-kicks and corners. They need the scoring facility and proven fighting heart of Michael Owen. They need major performances from young contenders like Frank Lampard, Owen Hargreaves and, perhaps more than anyone, Wayne Rooney.

Unrequired, utterly, is any fuzziness in the matter of what really constitutes leadership. It is nothing to do with image. It is the reality of making your tackles and passes and runs. Basically, it is doing your job when the going gets a little tough.