Nick Townsend: Sorry, 'responsible' is the hardest word

Beckham's further fall from grace suggests he may no longer be indispensable as captain or player

Contrary to what Elton John would have us believe, "sorry" is no longer the hardest word. Not after a week in which it has burbled from the lips so copiously, and, it must be said, so cheaply. And not merely at the Palace of Westminster. Indeed, far from that place. Where the country's best-selling tabloid was concerned, "Becks says sorry" was deemed rather more relevant front-page material than the apology offered by Captain Tony on the question of Iraq. These are decidedly times of perverse priorities.

Contrary to what Elton John would have us believe, "sorry" is no longer the hardest word. Not after a week in which it has burbled from the lips so copiously, and, it must be said, so cheaply. And not merely at the Palace of Westminster. Indeed, far from that place. Where the country's best-selling tabloid was concerned, "Becks says sorry" was deemed rather more relevant front-page material than the apology offered by Captain Tony on the question of Iraq. These are decidedly times of perverse priorities.

What has been significant, however, is that while the semantics of David Beckham's utterances have been debated with relish by the great and the garrulous, England, harnessed to the understated leadership of Michael Owen, have emerged from the Caspian squalls with the points secure, and a specific one made: England are scarcely a directionless vessel just because the Real Madrid midfielder is not at the helm.

England do not encounter World Cup qualification again until the spring, a convenient hiatus for Eriksson to reconsider the question of Beckham's captaincy, which has been found severely wanting. Saturday's incidents involving Wales's Ben Thatcher would have still been an issue, regardless of Beckham's subsequent apologies, defence, admission, honesty - describe his utterances as you will. It was far from the first occasion that the captain has incurred an unnecessary caution or behaved with conduct unbecoming the role. He is that rare example of a captain who leads by mis- example, his strategy apparently being: don't do as I say, do as I don't.

That said, his contention that he was using his brain when colliding with Thatcher to contrive a suspension-yielding caution when he was aware that injury would preclude him anyway from the ensuing contest in Azerbaijan, is risible. The act itself wasn't big. It wasn't clever. And as damage-limitation exercises go, the explanation was about as intelligent as igniting an incendiary device in close quarters. It was akin to a batsman not walking, and then declaring publicly that he should have been given out. No wonder another England captain, albeit a former one, Nasser Hussain, who prefers to adhere to the stricture that the umpire is always correct, described Beckham's candour as "silly".

That's always assuming one can accept the veracity of Beckham's declaration. Most players who genuinely desired to incur a caution would have, say, kicked the ball away when a free-kick was awarded against them. Notwithstanding any damage Beckham may have inflicted on the opponent - the FA's response would have been intriguing in such circumstances, with Roy Keane's assault on Alf-Inge Haaland at Old Trafford still in mind - the assault on Thatcher could well have been adjudged a red-card offence.

It is not as if there aren't alternative worthy recipients of the armband. Owen, the existing No 2, is the obvious contender, although a forward possessing a monomaniacal eye for goal, as he demonstrated on Wednesday night to execute the winner, has never struck this observer as the ideal replacement. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand are others.

That's always assuming, of course, that Beckham still merits his place as a player. His potency from range is much-vaunted, though it is as well to reflect on the statistic that his stunningly struck goal against Wales was only his second (apart from penalties) in 17 games. As the pundit Alan Hansen commented on his contribution recently: "You look back three, four years ago, and if he had an average match, he'd be the best player you've ever seen in your life. Now he has the same average match, and he's the worst player you've ever seen in your life."

What is disconcerting about the Beckham imbroglio is that neither Eriksson nor the FA has handled the matter adeptly. There was sufficient fudge to stock a Devon tourist shop from the FA chairman, Geoff Thompson, and the England coach, while poor Owen was placed in an invidious position when questioned about his fellow expat. The striker desperately attempted not to malign Beckham while remaining the angelic face of football, an image the fraudulent claiming of Frank Lampard's goal last Saturday had only marginally creased.

What this required from the coach and his employers was a swift, meaningful response. Instead it has been allowed to fester, and from his England team-mates were detected dark rumblings of a mutiny on board Group Six's most bountiful ship, led presumably by Gary "Fletcher Christian" Neville. Except here it was because of threats emanating from the authorities that Captain Beckham could be set adrift - although the likeliest conclusion of the request by the FA for Beckham's "observations" on the incident is that he will eventually receive a finger-wagging and perhaps a one-game suspension. There is an ominous feeling of Rio-gate revisited.

It has been suggested that, apart from not wishing to irk Beckham's team-mates, the FA would want to avoid damaging their relationship with Eriksson. What relationship would that be? Surely not the one that, not a matter of weeks ago, many would have elected to sever, had it not been financially imprudent to do so?

The fact is that, if the England coach does not address the matter in a suitably mature manner, then the FA should assume that responsibility. For that appears to have become the hardest word: the acceptance of responsibility for your own actions, and that of your team's.

Eriksson's reaction contained the following classic: "More or less everything is OK - but don't talk." This crass response comes close to bringing the game into disrepute itself, never mind Beckham's transgression. If that is not a call to arms to the con-men and tricksters in the sport, then it is difficult to know what is.

In truth, it has been a week in which cheats have been over-zealous in their attempts to prosper. Poland may have merited victory against Wales, but the histrionics and feigning of injury can only be condemned. It was suggested in some quarters, generally to the left of Offa's Dyke, the following day that Wales had been "too honest". Unfortunately, any team who boast a Robbie Savage and a Craig Bellamy, both of whom constantly attempt to influence officials by word and deed, can hardly be said to occupy the moral high ground.

That is a position that Beckham has desperately attempted to recover in the past week. He has succeeded only in a further descent from grace. All he can depend on now are mighty expressions of regret, while taking comfort from Tennyson's words: "Tis held that sorrow makes us wise."

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
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.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on