Becks must bow to time and pass the baton

England might do better to put their faith in youth after David Beckham�s indifferent performance in Paris, writes Richard Williams.

David Beckham was the last man to leave the pitch, and this time it may have been a final curtain call. Losing to France will have given Fabio Capello a very clear idea of the problems he faces if he is to fulfill the hopes invested in him by England, and he could well be on the brink of concluding that radical measures are required. If so, we have probably seen the last of Beckham, whose contribution to the match may have been no worse than anyone else�s but was certainly never threatening to swing the result England�s way.

The last time Beckham ran out for England in the Stade de France it was to play in central-midfield under a floundering Kevin Keegan who, only weeks away from his own departure, left the 20-year-old Michael Owen on the bench. That match, in September 2000, was also a friendly and England were losing 1-0 when Owen came on to produce a brilliant late equaliser, thus dimming the lights on the party at which France, who had just added the European title to their World Championship, were saying farewell to a handful of their great stars.

This party was supposed to be in celebration of Beckham�s century and he occupied his natural berth on the right-wing. He was in the action early on, missing a tackle on Claude Makelele in the second minute and chasing deep into his own-half to dispossess Florent Malouda. Three minutes later his dipping right-wing cross forced Lilian Thuram to head the ball away for a corner at the near post, and his early combinations with Wes Brown looked reasonably assured, if slightly laboured. With a ? quarter of an hour gone he raced in as Ashley Cole hit a low, hard cross from the left across the face of the goal but he narrowly failed to reach the ball after Gregory Coupet had stretched himself to make a deflection.

What England lacked was pace, particularly on Beckham�s flank. Their ball retention was better than it had been against Switzerland but a lack of thrust was evident whenever they approached the home goal. France made their most effective progress down their own right, where Francois Clerc and Franck Ribery were counterattacking with real speed, stretching the defenders in a way Beckham and Brown were failing to match. It was the urgency of Clerc�s pass to Nicolas Anelka after half an hour that forced David James into the last-ditch challenge which persuaded the referee to award a penalty converted with alacrity by Ribery.

Despite having allowed England an abundance of possession, France deserved their half-time lead for their superior incisiveness. Seven minutes before the interval, and in the middle of a lengthy period of anonymity, Beckham got himself booked for a scruffy challenge on Ribery, his opposite number, whose pace and zest were attracting comparisons that could only be unflattering to the former England captain.

He had done nothing particularly wrong, apart from collecting the yellow card, but he had not managed to suppress the feeling that the men now in charge of England might do better to put their faith in the youthful promise of David Bentley, Theo Walcott or Aaron Lennon. That, of course, was the general sentiment when the squad returned from the World Cup in Germany almost two years ago. With eight of the starting line-up from the quarterfinal against Portugal also on the field for the opening whistle, there was an uncomfortable sense of deja vu.

Beckham survived into the second-half, probably grateful to see Peter Crouch replacing Wayne Rooney as a more promising target for his crosses, one of which was immediately headed over Coupet�s bar by the Liverpool man. The arrival of Owen alongside Crouch and Stewart Downing on the left in place of a very disappointing Joe Cole gave England a more conventional look, with two wingers and two strikers of contrasting qualities, but the rearrangement left Owen Hargreaves and Gareth Barry looking short of imagination as they were suddenly thrust into a more creative role.

Capello was being given an unwelcome vision of the flaws that prevented England from achieving their ambitions during Sven-Goran Eriksson�s era.

The sluggishness, the tentativeness and the lack of zip must have disconcerted the new manager, who had urged his team not to be afraid to take risks. Only Downing, with two clever reverse passes to release Ashley Cole into space on the left, showed signs of answering that particular call.

Beckham got a respectable hand as he left the field after 64 minutes, having failed to make a persuasive case for his right to continue as a first-choice player into the qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup. Throughout the second-half a spectator ignorant of the recent history of these two teams would have been in no doubt about which of them is heading to an international tournament in a few weeks� time.

Essentially England had done nothing to dispel the ghosts of past failures. On a night that offered the opportunity for freedom of expression, too many familiar faces and too many familiar failings in the basic structure and attitude of their play will have had Capello and his assistants wondering if they can really change a set of bad habits that continue to resurface at the slightest opportunity. And the available material looked distinctly unpromising.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

David Beckham insisted that he had proved his fitness and hopes to add to his 100 caps under Fabio Capello, with international retirement not under consideration, despite seeing France deflate any sense of celebration by easing to victory in Paris.

The former captain�s salute to the travelling supporters at the final whistle had hinted this might be a farewell, the midfielder having become the fifth England player to accumulate 100 caps, though he has now set his eyes upon eclipsing Bobby Moore�s 108 caps to become the country�s most-capped outfield player. The France centre-half William Gallas attempted to swap shirts with the 32-year-old at the end, only for Beckham to politely refuse.

I don�t know where the rumours about quitting came from, but it certainly wasn�t from me, said Beckham. It�s 100 not out. Not yet, anyway. The most important thing for me was to prove my fitness and I felt I did that. I felt very fresh, a lot better than I thought I would. I�m very proud because reaching 100 caps doesn�t happen every day. Having my family and friends and the support of the fans was incredible. People will always question whether I can play at this level, but I was happy with tonight. I was happy with my performance, and more importantly my fitness.

The reception as I came off was amazing, from both sets of fans. You expect it off your own fans and I thank them for that, but it was the French people as well. It was an amazing standing ovation and I�m very proud of that. If there was one place I would have liked the game it was here, as it�s where (Zinedine) Zidane played, it�s one of my favourite cities and I have a house in France.

Beckham added: As soon as a new manager comes in it takes a while to get going, but he was pleased with tonight. We passed the ball around well and in the first-half kept a lot of possession, but if you don�t score teams like France capitalise.

David James admitted he was disappointed with the penalty, the goalkeeper having tripped Nicolas Anelka in an incident reminiscent of his foul on Thierry Henry in a similar position at Euro 2004. I�m disappointed, but I was a bit exposed, said the England No. 1. Anelka is not short of pace, is he? I actually tried to get out of the way.

Dominic Fifield/© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008