Nick Townsend: Beckham makes the most of his mission implausible

Eriksson needs genuine defensive midfielder to solve muddle

Whether the England coach acquiesced or was already of a similar mind when analysing the situation left by Michael Owen's suspension and merely had his judgement confirmed, 4-5-1 was the verdict, with the captain nominated as the anchor in a five-man midfield behind Wayne Rooney.

It succeeded, in a sense, with England securing three World Cup qualifying points, albeit in an unconvincing fashion against a team without a victory in competitive games in a sequence stretching back two-and-a-half years, and Beckham's performance vindicating - at least from an attacking viewpoint - that supposed deployment of player power. If, indeed, it was.

However, as Eriksson stood, perspiring in shirt sleeves, applauding his men after they had protected their lead during a final hectic 10 minutes of aerial bombardment, even he would have conceded that this victory raised more questions than it resolved - and certainly in the last 20 minutes when his substitutions appeared to confuse everyone, include the players.

Principally, he would have asked himself: is Beckham really equipped to fulfil the holding role? The answer, once the finer moments have been distilled and the sediment rejected, is probably not, even in the context of this confrontation against the 83rd-ranked football nation.

Way back in the mists of time, long before it was deemed that "there are no easy games in international football", Wales would have been treated with something approaching contempt. Well, that's the legend, according to that sage of 1966 and all that, Jimmy Greaves, whose scathing response to Eriksson's latest formation, had been that, in his day, England would play a 1-5-4 system against the Principality, and "use the match for shooting practice - and that against a useful Wales team".

We may scoff at such comparisons with yesteryear, but it was not difficult to assert that Eriksson does offer his critics an inviting target. When he agreed afterwards that England's performance was "up and down", it was an accurate assessment of his men's confrontation with Ryan and the Remnants, as John Toshack's team could be more accurately described. Giggs toiled valiantly and with typical fleetness of foot, as did "Little John" Hartson.

This game always bore the look of one in which England would need to exhibit almost criminal recklessness if they were not to secure a comfortable victory - whatever the formation. They simply possessed too much individual prowess for rivals who had arrived from such clubs as Burnley, Coventry City, Bristol City and Swansea.

Somehow Eriksson made victory a rather more complex a process than it should have been. In the prelude to the game, one could comprehend the Swede's reluctance to promote Jermain Defoe to partner Rooney, and there is, of course, no reason why a coach should not consult his experienced players; it's just that Beckham's participation and ultimate role suggest a somewhat subjective interest. It's a position the Real Madrid midfielder has long hankered for, even though he concedes himself, in defensive terms: "I am not a [Claude] Makelele." Quite so. It is a specialist position, and England's long-term future may be better served by Newcastle's Scott Parker, Tottenham's Michael Carrick or Bayern Munich's Owen Hargreaves.

Beckham reflected of that new role in the England side: "When you've got players like Frank [Lampard] and Steven [Gerrard] around you it is easier. We're professionals and, if you're asked to play in different positions and different styles, you should be able to do it."

In a first half which had followed possibly the most venomous reaction to the "English" National Anthem - why do they persist with this dirge, anyway? - Beckham certainly looked the part, directing his team-mates, like a titled lady instucting her people below stairs. A gesture to the disappointing Lampard here, an admonishment to right-back Luke Young, making his first start for England. Still, at least he exhibited some of the leadership qualities which too often appear to be absent.

Though the England captain failed to demonstrate that he truly is to this manner of football born, he did summon sufficient attacking vision - just occasionally exquisitely so - to suggest that he has some affinity with the holding position, though it was when he drove forward and wide, like the Beckham of old, dispatching one speculative centre just before the break which Joe Cole contrived to head wide, that he was particularly menacing.

After the interval that facet of the game was to the fore once more. An excellent cross-park ball for Wright-Phillips, inside an always slightly spluttering home defensive machine, but the Chelsea summer signing was adjudged offside. But immediately afterwards he found the same player, who fashioned an opening for Joe Cole to win the day, if not the minds of the sceptics. Sky TV's pundit Jamie Redknapp opined: "When you give him [Beckham] the time, he can execute passes like he did with that goal." He added that against the élite, such as Argentina, he cannot be certain of being allowed that time.

That is something for Eriksson to ponder; one of many dilemmas for him in the months ahead.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering