A 2-1 victory over Hungary at Wembley last week was England’s first game since the World Cup and was sealed by Steven Gerrard’s impressive goals. Unfortunately for the man still making the transition from trophy-laden club boss to successful England manager, the events of the game were overshadowed. In an interview broadcast prior to the match Fabio Capello seemed to dismiss David Beckham’s chances of rejoining the England squad as they attempt to qualify for Euro 2012. “I say thank you very much for helping me at the World Cup but probably he is a little bit old.” For a manager who is routinely having his language skills scrutinised it was yet another communication blunder and arguably a brazen way to call time on the England icon. Despite protocol this decision may be the first step of Capello and England’s road to redemption.
Capello’s decision to effectively end Beckham’s England career has become the latest weapon of attack for a hostile media. The Italian disciplinarian has been legitimately criticised for a host of reasons including team selection, passé tactics and taking statistically the oldest squad to South Africa. Yet his detractors now concentrate on his limited language skills and the judgment that Beckham is now too old. The abrupt manner of the decision even prompted the Prime Minister David Cameron to fondly recall that free-kick against Greece in 2002. The backlash in the media was not confined to the timing of Capello’s comments but the decision itself. On TalkSport’s Drive Time show last Thursday presenters Adrian Durham and Darren Gough questioned the wisdom of these comments, insisting that the midfielder has one more tournament in him. Durham argued that had Beckham been available for the Hungary game Wembley would have been sold out and the atmosphere vastly improved.
These arguments, however, border on the sentimental and bare little relation to footballing matters. Perhaps this is in-keeping with a player who is an idol of the game and prime fodder for journalists who pontificate on anything from his wife, family and lifestyle to his tattoos, beard and latest hairstyle. For a footballer accustomed to the vicissitudes of international football it is admirable that Beckham is likely to fight for his place and not turn his back on England in the manner of some of his compatriots in recent weeks. Beckham’s hopes of being the first Englishman to appear in four World Cups were dashed by an Achilles injury suffered at the Bentegodi stadium whilst playing for AC Milan.
Yet does Beckham, already England’s most-capped outfield player, deserve sympathy or pity? There are a few reasons as to why this was Capello’s most sensible decision in a long time. A feature of England’s victory last week was the role played by promising youngsters who had not featured in South Africa. Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere all appeared confident in a team which had been paralysed by fear at the World Cup. After applied pressure from the FA the England manager is searching to find the next generation of England players who can deliver what a star-studded cast could not. Recalling Beckham to the fold is not the message would wish to convey as he embarks on a new approach focused on young, exciting talent.
Capello’s failed attempt to persuade Paul Scholes out of international retirement may show that one is never too old but the Italian can rightfully doubt Beckham’s return from injury. A development which has largely eluded the press was that of the new AC Milan boss, Massimiliano Allegri stating that the midfielder was unlikely to return to the San Siro this season. Milan are renowned for prolonging the careers of ageing stars but seriously doubt Beckham’s ability to fully recover from such a serious injury. Allegri said, “He is now recovering from a very bad injury and at that age I think it is very difficult to come back.” Beckham’s hopes of playing in the World Cup were contingent on him playing in a top European league. Plying his trade for LA Galaxy was never sufficient for Capello.
Having been urged to forge a new era for England, Capello has now been attacked for calling time on an injured 35-year old. The Italian who made his name through a self-assured and ruthless streak when making decision displayed that trait again last week. Calling time on Beckham was rational and may have other members of the old guard looking over their shoulder in the months ahead.