Watching David Beckham in Cape Town last week going on about what is now his chief role in life, namely the business of being David Beckham, a thought occurred. If he could get back all that time spent signing autographs and posing for photos with strangers, how much would it add up to? My rough calculation is that at least a month of his life has been lost in those tiny fractions of time that it takes to scrawl his signature or stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men, women and children while digital cameras are pointed and expressions of delight are mustered. It accrues over time and he will not be able to claim it back at the end of his days, like some bountiful rebate from the celestial taxman.
Beckham gave away his time in Cape Town last week with good humour and willing. He shook hands with people of whose identity he had not the slightest notion because another well-meaning member of England's 2018 World Cup bid had thrust them in his direction. A few like, Michel Platini, he could identify. Everyone else must have been a blur of handshakes and banal small-talk.
It is always more entertaining to watch the crowds of people around Beckham than the man himself. They were transfixed by his white trash mohican and tattoos peaking out from the cuffs of his expensive suit. For those few seconds in his company they behaved as if at the centre of some global celebrity vortex.
The 2018 bid used the Beckham effect to devastating effect last week. When all else failed they rolled out the big gun and, like those super-charged alien weapons in the movie District 9, Beckham dutifully zapped all opposition in his path. It mattered not whether the Australian bid had the best promotional film, or the Spain-Portugal bid had Luis Figo. When Beckham walked into a room he blew the rest to smithereens. Yes, last week, English football owed Beckham big time. That sort of endorsement from the most famous sportsman in the world normally costs millions and the Football Association got it all for free. Although at the heart of it there was something troubling.
No matter what Beckham does for the 2018 World Cup bid there is one thing he is not owed unconditionally and that is a place in England's 2010 World Cup squad.
Beckham said himself that "nothing is guaranteed" and "I don't take anything for granted" when it comes to the World Cup squad. He might not take it for granted but over those heady days in Cape Town you could see Beckham reasserting that benign grip over a grateful FA that he once enjoyed under Sven Goran Eriksson as captain and de facto team ruler.
It would be desperately inconvenient to England's 2018 committee if Beckham, the iconic face of their bid, was to be absent in South Africa next summer. It would also make things more than a little awkward when they come to rely on him for the crucial lobbying right up to the decision by Fifa on 2 December next year.
Fabio Capello does not appear the type to bow to any kind of pressure, explicit or not, to pick a player. But then the Beckham effect can do strange things to a man. In Cape Town, Capello was upstaged more than once by Beckham, when the two of them were brought out together for the cameras. I have seen footage of the England manager's wife Laura posing with Beckham for a photograph – with Capello himself taking the picture. Beckham will be 35 come May and there are still unanswered questions about whether he is worth including in a squad in which every place must be earned. A choice of 23 players may seem like a lot but when a manager gets the balance minutely wrong it can come back to haunt him in the tournament, as Eriksson found when he picked Theo Walcott in 2006 and left himself short of experienced strikers. In fact, to get Beckham in the squad would mean breaking the old rule of two outfield players for every position. To accommodate him, Capello would have to pick two from Aaron Lennon, Walcott and Shaun Wright-Phillips and probably dispense with one of his back-up full-backs – maybe Wayne Bridge - in favour of a utility man like James Milner who can give him cover in that position.
The 20 outfield players would look something like this: Johnson, Brown, Terry, Ferdinand, Upson, Lescott, Ashley Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Barry, Beckham, Joe Cole, two from Lennon, Walcott and Wright-Phillips, Milner, Carrick or Hargreaves, Rooney, Heskey, Crouch and Defoe. It leaves Capello exposed at left-back and it also means he does not have a left-sided specialist, such as Stewart Downing, in the squad.
Beckham would certainly argue that his motives for helping the 2018 bid are genuine and altruistic and there is no reason to doubt that. But once again, through no real fault of his own, Beckham's power and fame are threatening to put everyone else – his manager and his team-mates – in the shade and, as we have seen in the past, that is never a recipe for success.
Blundering Blatter's attempt to flatter
Sepp Blatter probably thought that his comment during the World Cup final draw to the South African television presenter Carol Manana, that falling in love with her country was easier when he looked at her, demonstrated his old world European charm.
In reality it was borderline offensive, especially coming from a 73-year-old who is comfortably old enough to be Manana's grandfather. The Fifa president is a loose cannon and when he veers off the script, as he did on Friday night, you can see the terror on the faces of his Fifa apparatchiks.
Six months to work on a warm welcome
Sadly the locals in Cape Town still preface bar and restaurant recommendations with advice to be careful around the city. So on Saturday I tested the theory by walking the route that many England fans will take on 18 June from the waterfront area of bars and restaurants to Green Point stadium for the game against Algeria.
I turned a corner to see the stadium in the distance and a grass bank peppered with old artillery, presumably decommissioned. The sentry's hut was still there and he must have been around because his washing was hanging on the line outside. Let's hope the welcome is warmer come June.
What's the Spanish for sucking up?
From the Spain-Portugal 2018 World Cup bid brochure: "Dear President, dear Sepp. We are here in Zurich to present officially, to you and the Fifa family which you so ably represent, our candidature." Nurse! The sickbag at once!Reuse content