James Lawton: The time to thank Beckham will be when he plays to his full potential

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The Independent Football

England's cricket team have incurred a little derision in certain sophisticated quarters for the rousing version of "Jerusalem" that now greets the opening of a Test match. But who could criticise such a move before tonight's engagement of their football counterparts in the friendly match against Croatia at Ipswich?

Anything, surely, is better than the current prelude: the tinny sound of self-absorption.

Three cornerstone characters, the coach Sven Goran Eriksson, the captain David Beckham and Sol Campbell, the defensive leader who will be absent with injuries to his shoulder and perhaps also his psyche, have between them managed to sound about as warrior-like as a bunch of Morris Dancers.

Beckham (who may just be a little rattled by the fact that of all those parts of the world he has recently conquered, Madrid, or at least its often viciously critical media, has resolutely refused to be overwhelmed) complains that his old boss Sir Alex Ferguson hasn't so much as penned him a farewell note.

Campbell is convinced he keeps being booked or sent off not becausehe has kicked or elbowed an opponent, but because of a ganging-up by referees. Eriksson says that he will leave if England fail to qualify for the European Championship finals because the press will make his professional life untenable.

Beckham, who insists he has controlled his own destiny at every step of the way from Old Trafford, is maybe in need of a little psychological adjustment in his new and wider world. Once he properly explores how it works beyond the boundaries of relentless hype, he may understand that Ferguson's farewell was not delivered by way of a flying boot in the Old Trafford dressing room. Anything more eloquent had to wait for his programme notes written a few days before he introduced his brilliant new protégé Cristiano Ronaldo, whose role the manager could not have defined more pointedly than by handing the wunderkind Beckham's old jersey.

It was to draw a line under the age of Beckham. Just as Beckham himself did the epoch of Eric Cantona. It is the way it works in the big time. Beckham's own parting statement, after all, was to put on the Alice band which made sure every passing paparazzo got a clear view of his grazed eyebrow.

Ferguson is many things, but not sentimental. Instead of complaining about the lack of grace in their parting, Beckham might be wise to consider what Ferguson might have said. He was generous enough when Beckham was doing his stuff, but when he didn't, the player was dropped from last season's most important games. That was the most important statement - the rest would have been hollow.

As hollow as the bleatings of Campbell. When he was at Tottenham, he swore undying loyalty to his club. Then he marched off to Arsenal. There comes a point when a massively rewarded professional is required to reflect a little on what he says - and see a little more clearly how it relates to what he does. Campbell entered his current downward disciplinary spiral when he was sent off for elbowing Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season. Both he and his manager, Arsène Wenger, expressed outrage. The professional consensus was that Campbell had indeed plainly elbowed Solskjaer.

After his latest offence, Campbell admitted to Wenger that he made contact with his victim, and the manager saw this as an indication of honesty. It wasn't. It was the concession that the entire nation isn't blind.

In another gratuitous exchange of sweet talk between Beckham and Eriksson, the player said that he hoped passionately that Eriksson stayed in the job - at least until he won something. The manager said: "It's very good to have a captain like that - and I thank him." Thank him for what? A piece of platitudinous drivel?

Eriksson will have cause to thank Beckham, as Ferguson once did, if Beckham plays to the limit of his powers, if he proves that the last few fantasy months have not separated him from the best of his talent. All else is talk - talk makes England a green and bilious land.

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