James Lawton: If the heat is on, Beckham can never be mistaken for Cool Hand Luke

He has now been sent off six times in his career, twice while playing for England, and on every occasion these dismissals have been as a result of a loss of composure. Most troubling now is the accelerating pace of his emotion-induced indiscretions.

In Madrid on Sunday night, with irony that would have been hilarious if we were not so often asked to judge Beckham as a serious, even statesmanlike senior player, the England captain was ejected for intruding into a matter that didn't concern him and then derisively applauding the referee at the award of a yellow card. This, most will remember, was precisely the reason why Beckham's young team-mate Wayne Rooney was dismissed during defeat by Northern Ireland recently. Then, Beckham rushed forward to offer wise counsel and was promptly told to push off, so to say.

After his dismissal against Austria while playing for England, an embarrassment that was triggered by the receipt of a yellow card for going into a tackle with his arm raised, Beckham reminded all those not so familiar with the Spanish game that in his adopted football land players were generally cautioned for making tackles in such a fashion. Presumably, he had forgotten or ignored the fact that the referee was Spanish. Either way, it did make you wonder once again if he was quite the right man to gauge the state of an important game before imposing his authority.

After the episode with Rooney, Beckham invited the youngster to Madrid, where, we were led to believe, the advice that was so brusquely rejected in Belfast was repeated in more congenial circumstances. We have to guess that the thrust of the wise one's reflections was it is vital to always keep your head.

There is a certain mad glory to the captain's straight-faced playing of the sage. He remains utterly unconfounded by the evidence he produces, on a regular basis, that when the heat is on he is never going to be mistaken for Cool Hand Luke.

As to the debate on the value of a genuinely inspiring, and disciplined captain, someone like Bobby Moore or Franco Baresi or Johan Cruyff or Franz Beckenbauer, there are arguments on either side. A good team, with a core of sound, experienced professionals, generally has three or four obvious candidates to wear the armband if necessary. In the current England team, John Terry, outstandingly, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Gary Neville have made cases for themselves.

However, none of them makes such a nice picture while shaking hands in the centre circle. Some feel this is about as far as the job goes. However, they may accept there are certain other basic duties. One of them, we can guess, is to behave like a grown-up professional. Going into World Cup year, however, it is probably too much to hope for such a quantum leap.

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