Beckham still has a lot of work to do to make the 2010 World Cup

Last night’s Manchester United victory in the San Siro proved several things that many in the football world already knew.

Wayne Rooney is world-class and beginning to make more and more people just that little bit more confident of England’s chances of lifting the World Cup.

United are the absolute kings of pulling results out of the bag when they seem either dead and buried or up against it, ready to capitulate at any moment.

Alex Ferguson has not totally mellowed with age and is even prepared to whip out the old hairdryer before he gets to the changing rooms.

David Beckham is a long way away from being ready for a World Cup.

Judging an England legend on 76 minutes of football may seem a little harsh, but this analysis is based on more than just last night’s performance-or lack of it.  Beckham struggling in a game against one of Europe’s top teams should hardly be enough to stop him going to South Africa but the problem is a little deeper than just that. United were defensively poor for long periods of the game last night, especially in the first half and yet Beckham still found it hard to make any sort of impact. This could be put down to the fact that the occasion of finally playing against his former club and the one he stills holds closest to his heart got the better of him. If that’s the case then while not being entirely satisfactory it is still understandable, after all Beckham is an emotional man who wears his heart on his sleeve and has always maintained his deep affection for United. Also the pace of a Champion’s League game against English opposition may just have been a step up that he wasn’t quite prepared for. But last night’s game was merely an extension of the lack of real impression Beckham has made since his move back to Milan from LA Galaxy last month. On his first game, a 5-2 thrashing of Genoa, Beckham played well and was applauded by the home fans when he was substituted after 75 minutes. Since then however his form has been patchy at best and he has found himself in and out of the Milan side.

One of the reasons Beckham is still in a good position to go to South Africa is because of his relationship with Fabio Capello. Having worked together at Real Madrid where Beckham helped the Italian guide the team to a La Liga triumph, he is the only player in the England squad to know the manager from club football. Beckham is also one of the few-if any- elder statesman of the England team, a man who has always been something of an ambassador for his country ever since he redeemed his international reputation in 2002. However there are two factors which may just throw a spanner in the works when it comes to Beckham’s attempt at a fourth World Cup.

As Capello has shown with John Terry he is not afraid to make big decisions if he feels it’s right for the team. As Real Madrid manager he dropped Beckham at first due to his signing an agreement with LA Galaxy and then re-instated him when he realised the team were much worse without him.

The second factor Beckham will have to look out for is the form of the recently returned from- yet another -injury Theo Walcott and also Shaun Wright-Phillips. The reason Aaron Lennon doesn’t get a mention is simple; he has to go to the World Cup if he’s fit, more so than David Beckham. The impact he has made at Tottenham this season and the amount they’ve struggled since he’s been injured must surely make him a certainty for the plane to South Africa. If Lennon is fit come June then Walcott and Wright-Phillips would seem the only two other real contenders for being his understudy.  If Walcott shows any good form, then he could become a must for Capello’s squad as the England boss may remember a certain night in Croatia when the former World Cup mascot helped make England’s World Cup qualification all that more assured.

Wright-Phillips on the other hand would have a lot more to do to convince Capello he is truly world class but his six goals this season-plus one in an England shirt- mean he is not to be dismissed. If Wright-Phillips can maintain consistent form for City then he may well give Capello a real headache.

Of course there’s always the chance that Capello may well take Beckham along with two right wingers, after all, he could always figure in a central midfield role. But with Lampard, Gerrard, Carrick, Barry, Milner and Jenas all competing for central midfield it may prove to be more difficult than ousting one of the right wide-men for Beckham.

There is of course more to it than just Beckham’s footballing ability, after all he’s usually the focal point of the national side, regardless of whoever’s captain and how gifted Rooney is. This is generally looked upon as a good thing, taking much of the media pressure and attention off some of the younger players and enabling them to get on with the tasks on the pitch. However if Capello decides that Beckham’s form for Milan is not up to scratch then being ‘Goldenballs’ may not truly convince the decidedly unsentimental Italian he is really needed. Capello may even buy into the Alex Ferguson mentality that the tattooed one, is contributing to more of a ‘circus’ than is actually helping, although that seems unlikely. Beckham has always been more of an inspirational figure for his level of performance and his capacity to absorb the limelight than for any Dunkirk-spirit- type-rallying ability, if he was deemed to have lost much of that level of performance then being a fan’s favourite and the most media savvy English player there is, may not be enough to book him his place in English World cup history.

Beckham may well find that the next few months of his career turn out to be the most important. Let’s just hope that if he does make the World Cup squad he can finally prove his worth at a major tournament and show us there’s much more to David Beckham than just his past achievements.

Read more of Justin Mottershead work at his blog ‘Name is on the Trophy’