Jason Burt: Golden boy Beckham leaves little impression
Thursday 27 March 2008
Golden boots but not too many golden balls. In the 27th minute of his 100th appearance for England, David Beckham received a pass, took a touch – and hit a wildly ambitious ball sailing high in the direction of Wayne Rooney's game but, to be honest, fruitless run. William Gallas simply tidied up.
In the brave new world of Fabio Capello's England it was not an edifying moment. It was, in an appearance that had naturally warranted reflection, recollection and taking stock of previous events, a blast – quite literally – from the past.
If England's football needs to move on, be more progressive, patient, mature, to be a passing game, to play less of the long ball, then this was the most glaring example of exactly what they need to get away from. Moments later Beckham took another touch and pinged a pass at Steven Gerrard's head. Never mind that he was on his own, in-field, and the ball skimmed over him.
A dozen minutes after that moment Beckham was booked when he tugged at the shirt of Franck Ribéry as the winger easily skipped beyond him. Pace. It's the other quality. It's what Beckham has never possessed – he even made a joke about it before this match saying he couldn't lose any speed as he never had any – and what England sorely lacked.
On the stroke of half-time Beckham again got the ball and struck a brilliant cross-field pass to the feet of Gerrard. It provoked an approving round of applause. But, again, was this the football that Capello wants? Once more the move rapidly petered out – partly because Beckham and his team-mates didn't have the speed to catch up, partly because the pass had been to a player surrounded and Gerrard was left isolated.
If recalling Beckham was a baffling decision for some, then the way he played appeared even more baffling. In a formation that demanded he joined both the attack and held together the midfield he decided to patrol the touchline. It looked like he wanted to give the team width but that wasn't his primary duty. Again it appeared to be a blast from the past.
There was some logic in, having brought him into the squad, starting Beckham for this game. If Capello had felt, from the reports he received from his right-hand man Franco Baldini, who had flown to the United States to watch LA Galaxy, that Beckham had proved his fitness, then there was no better way to test that further than by playing him from kick-off.
Capello had said it would have been cruel to have asked Beckham to cross the Atlantic and then not to play him. Even more importantly it would have perhaps been foolish to have asked him to do so, put him on the bench and let him play just a 20-minute cameo. That would have given few clues as to his enduring suitability to be involved in the squad with the World Cup qualifying campaign to come.
Core fitness didn't appear a great problem. Awareness did. Twice in the opening minutes Beckham was exposed by Florent Malouda, although there was mitigation in that he was playing in front of Wes Brown. Former Manchester United colleagues they may be, but Brown was again proving he's not an international right-back in what was another evening to forget for him.
Beckham survived the half-time cull as England reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, but the change didn't see an alteration of fortune for him, even if there was more purpose to his team. Eighteen minutes after the interval he was off. David Bentley replaced him. The applause rang around, as it had when his name was read out before kick-off. There was a handshake from Bentley and from Capello as Beckham brushed past him to the benches. Whether he will ever start a game again for his country, only time will tell. On this showing there was no compelling evidence to warrant it.
Afterwards Beckham again pledged to try to carry on playing for his country. "I've proved my fitness, that's the biggest thing," he said. "We're not into our season yet but I felt great, I felt a lot better than I thought I would.
"Just to go over the 100 mark is a proud moment. To be up there with Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Billy Wright and Peter Shilton, I'm honoured to be in that company."
England v France since '98
How England have fared against Les Bleus since France won the World Cup:
European Championship, Estadio da Luz, Lisbon: France 2 Zidane (2) England 1 Lampard
Friendly, Stade de France: France 1 Petit England 1 Owen
Friendly, Wembley: England 0 France 2 Anelka (2)
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