James Lawton: Eriksson's silence over captaincy speaks volumes

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The Independent Football

David Beckham, having escaped punishment for deliberately, even proudly, subverting the laws of football, has now been "reminded of his responsibilities" by the Football Association. In these appalling, but scarcely surprising, circumstances it may be necessary to remind the governing body of its own.

David Beckham, having escaped punishment for deliberately, even proudly, subverting the laws of football, has now been "reminded of his responsibilities" by the Football Association. In these appalling, but scarcely surprising, circumstances it may be necessary to remind the governing body of its own.

Quite an important one is to have in place a captain of England who displays some evidence that he truly understands the requirements of an office once executed proudly by men like Bobby Moore, Billy Wright and Bryan Robson.

More than anything, though, it is vital to have someone in charge of the team who does not back off every test of leadership that is placed before him.

The truth is that Sven Goran Eriksson, not the enfeebled, serially fudging FA, is the one who comes out worst in this bizarre affair. He has made himself football's arch-priest of expediency and compromise.

This certainly was the perfect chance for him to put an end to the embarrassing captaincy of Beckham.

Eriksson could have dressed up the decision any way he liked. He could have said that with all the other stresses in his life, it might be a good time for the captain to step down. The coach might have suggested that after the confusion of mind displayed when Beckham owned up to deliberately fouling Wales' Ben Thatcher, with the object of "cleansing" yellow cards while he was injured and then publicly tried to make a virtue of it, at the very least a temporary withdrawal could be a good idea. It might allow Beckham a little a pause, a small point of reflection.

But then, of course, Eriksson could have been brutally honest. He could have said that for some time Beckham had simply failed to fulfil his duty. The fact that Beckham's performances in the European Championships were so abysmal, that in the end he had lost the composure to convert penalty-kicks, was one question mark against the value of his continued captaincy. Vastly more damning, though, was Beckham's admission that he arrived at the championships unfit, and why was this? Because of the training methods of Real Madrid.

That statement was naturally coolly received at all levels in Madrid, not least by Beckham's veteran Real team-mate, Luis Figo of Portugal, who despite wavering form ran himself to the point of exhaustion.

How can a professional footballer who happens to captain his country report for a major tournament without injury but with the sheer nerve to admit to being unfit? Even more pertinently, how can a £4m-a-year team coach accept it without a hint of outrage? Eriksson did this, just as he dismissed any possibility that Beckham might be fired for causing the exquisite embarrassment that suffused the recent World Cup qualifying expedition to Azerbaijan. Did Eriksson rail at the stupidity of Beckham's confession of lawlessness in the Wales match? No, he offered a platitude about the value of silence.

Eriksson, we know well enough, believes in silence. He didn't utter a squeak when Beckham and his team-mates discussed the possibility of striking at the time of Rio Ferdinand's exclusion from the team after he had failed to take a drug test. He didn't have anything to say when it was suggested that Beckham had deeply compromised himself and the Football Association over the yellow card affair. Eventually, he said that the question of deposing Beckham had simply not crossed his mind.

Why not? Was he happy with a captain who showed up for a major tournament unable to do his job? Was he impressed with Beckham's behaviour in the Welsh match? Did he think it a fitting example for young players like Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who represent an encouraging surge of new blood? These are questions that cannot be flushed away with the latest evasion of duty by the FA. They had a grovelling apology from Beckham on the record - one that for a third straight day dominated headlines. Yet they said there was insufficient evidence to punish him. However, they did remind him of those responsibilities.

But how do they define them? Who could possibly know? Sir Geoff Hurst, of course, made his position clear, and he also felt able to speak for the man who led him and his team-mates to World Cup victory in 1966. He said that if Bobby Moore had behaved as Beckham did in the Welsh game, Sir Alf would have said, "Thanks, that's it." The other reality is that judgement would have come far sooner. It would have been shaped by the fact that Beckham had turned his captaincy into a personal possession, a source of vast publicity and commercial value.

Now, the FA told us yesterday, Beckham's situation has gone beyond that. It has reached the point where he is beyond check or censure. The cowardice of the FA lacked only a bowl of water and a towel.

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