The Nick Townsend column: Plane crazy to think golden boy won't lag behind

Beckham's attempt to play Superman flies in the face of reason and the England manager must bring him back down to earth
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The Independent Football

It was going to take one mighty personality to relegate "Gentleman" Tim, BBC sport's darling of the last decade, from lead item of Friday's sports bulletin on BBC1's Breakfast programme. News of the former BritishNo 1's long-signposted retirement scarcely required embellishment, but it was a chance for the Beeb to bring us the man who is destined to exchange his serve 'n' volley for punditry service for the Corporation come next Wimbledon.

And yet with one bound, like some superhero from a Marvel comic, he was there; fast as, well, a speeding plane. Becks the Behemoth, would-be master of footballing time travel, had nudged poor old Timbo into a scheduling afterthought. Presenter Sue Thearle described it breathlessly as "not exactly breaking news, but breaking pictures", and, phantasmagorical as it appeared, there David Beckham was, 29 hours after having done his 90-minute stint for England, turning out for LA Galaxy in their MLS derby against co-tenants Chivas USA at Home Depot Center.

And to what avail? Two goal attempts, both off target, in a3-0 defeat. He also provoked a skirmish which ended with two dismissals. Galaxy's coach, Frank Yallop, attempted to apply some logic to his captain's selection, insisting lamely he could have brought "a bit of magic", but ultimately had to concede: "At the end, he looked a bit hobbled and should have been rested." By both club and country, it is tempting to contend.

You do not have to be anexpert on human physiology to suspect that for all Beckham's insistence that "you can sleep on a plane", even if he would not be doing so in a legs-stuck-under-the-seat-in-front position that most of us adopt, such travel takes its toll. Galaxy's general manager,Alexi Lalas, with a reported £120 million investment in mind, has already said: "If at any point we felt it was detrimental to his health or ability to help our team, we would take action."

If the past week has taught Beckham, his club and his country anything, it is the futility of this double life; most of it spent 5,500 miles and, it must be stressed, several light years away from the Premier League and international football. It is an existence which has tied up Steve McClaren in cerebral knots.

Beckham impressed everyone with his long haul back to international acceptance, and made the England coach appear rather absurd for having jettisoned him at the start of his tenure, seemingly merely to demonstrate that he was Anything But Sven. But nowMcClaren has created a problemfor himself. What is a coach to do with a celebrity like Beckham, a man obsessive in his determination to attain his 100 caps, which would be accompanied, presumably, by those much-debated titles of Sir David and Lady Victoria. There will be those who suggest he has obviously misheard the words of that deified figure of his adopted land, JFK, and imagined the late president had said: "Think not what you can do for your country, but what you can do for yourself."

That is if you take the most cynical perspective, and share the misgivings of those lambasters-come-lately who crowded the phone-in immediately after Wednesday's 2-1 defeat by Germany to call for Beckham to follow Henman's example. There are comparisons between the pair. Both are 32 and, indisputably, have been talented, inspirational exponents of their crafts. Yet the achievements of both, by the highest standards, have been overpraised, and both have become metaphors for the promotion of hope over reality.

Now their career paths diverge. One has accepted his declining powers; the other grasps grimlyto the belief that he is indispensable to his country in its quest for Euro 2008 qualification.

Certainly there is no reason why he shouldn't make a contribution. There has never been much pace to lose, anyway, and the experience garnered from 97 caps can prove invaluable. For all the criticism he has received since Wednesday, he retains the ability to deliver a precise cross, low or high. In 10 second-half minutes alone, he twice picked out substitute Kieron Dyer and then John Terry. On another night, those moves could have produced an equal-iser, and the opprobrium directed at McClaren would have been considerably more muted.

Of course, we and McClaren knew that Beckham was capableof that. He has been doing something similar since his England debut a decade ago. It was his determination to join the squad this week, eschewing the discomfort of an ankle injury, which made it nigh-on impossible for McClaren not to employ him on Wednesday night. However, it does beg the question as to why he was rewarded with a full game. Why restrict Shaun Wright- Phillips to a cameo – on the left, at that– rather than a lead role? It is performers such as Wright-Phillips and Micah Richards who represent England's future.

McClaren, the kind of man who, admittedly, always sees good- ness in the dregs of his glass, can rightly point to that pair as "positives" from a night which otherwise cast doubt over just about every area of his team, notwithstanding the injuries to Wayne Rooney, Owen Hargreaves, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole.

But Beckham's presence remains a conundrum. Now is not the time to discard him. Nor should he impede the progress of the young set. His desire to retain his fitness, his standards and what he perceives as his importance to the England cause must be utilised according tohis country's needs, not his own, as his carbon foot print rapidly expands to the size of a megalosaurus's. The least hecan do is offset it by aiding England's qualification for Austria-Switzerland 2008.

Jol is a dead man walking but why did Spurs give him £40m?

Martin Jol is getting "100 per cent" backing from his chairman, Daniel Levy. So Friday's Independent informed us. The more sceptical among us would submit that this is about as probable as China giving 100 per cent backing to Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. Speaking of which, when Jol put his name to a Spurs statement earlier in the week stating "it is realistic that we should challenge for a top-four position – yes, it is pressure to deliver, but that is what managers should expect", it seemingly had more than a touch of duress about it.

And at the end of a period during which the imbroglio at Spurs even extended as far as the England team – Paul Robinson partly attributing his poor performance on Wednesday to being unsettled by what was happening behind the scenes at his club – is anyone actually convinced that Spurs will 1) still be managed by Jol at the end of the season; and 2) be any closer to that elusive top-four position?

At best it appears an uneasy alliance between manager and board. Reports that Jol was only confirmed in the job after the Sevilla coach, Juande Ramos, rejected it is likely to have only one effect: unrest among players who must believe that, for all the reassurances from Levy, their manager is a dead man walking.

The turmoil reflects a perennial frustration at Tottenham, who last secured a League championship in 1961 under the late, great Bill Nicholson. Jol emerged in defiant mood and typical humour, observing drily that if, say, a Newcastle managergalvanised the club to fifth two years in succession they would have a statue constructed of him.

In the brutally competitive Premier League, an ambitious board are entitled to replace their manager at any time. Yet Spurs followers will rightly question quite why it was deemed necessary to replace Jol this early, particularly after he had spentalmost £40 million in the summer. One suspects in any fans' vote it would be Levy whose resignation would be demanded, not the head of the man who regenerated Spurs' fortunes.

Watch England's game against Israel live on BBC1, Saturday 8 September, 5pmkick-off

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