Capello has no room for Beckham now

If England are to flourish under the Capello regime, they will probably need to be doing well enough to take Beckham’s return off the agenda once and for all, writes Richard Williams.

In a week when even the memory of his luxuriantly sweeping free-kicks was supplanted by the stabbing, swerving urgency of the new hero in Manchester United’s No. 7 shirt, David Beckham has learnt that the award of his 100th international cap will not, after all, be a formality. Fabio Capello may very well have been impressed during his visits to Arsenal’s training centre by the former England captain’s desire to keep himself fit in the MLS close season bu t he clearly remained unpersuaded that a place should be found in his first squad for a man who has not played a competitive game of football since LA Galaxy met Minnesota Thunder on November 11.

Only Capello knows the degree to which he was swayed by a desire to avoid turning the friendly match into a Beckham-fest. The absence of the Goldenballs clan in Wembley’s VIP seats, however, will at least ensure that the cameras are focussed on the pitch.

As a result Beckham now has nothing on his footballing schedule other than a trip to the Far East for his club’s pre-season friendlies before the Galaxy travel to Colorado on March 29 for the start of the US league season, three days after England play France in the second match of the Capello era.

By that time the new boss may have taken a real shine to Shaun Wright-Phillips, David Bentley, Gabriel Agbonlahor or even Aaron Lennon, his other options on the right side of midfield.

Not that Beckham will be at a loose end while England are taking their first steps under Capello.

His visits to Sierra Leone on behalf of Unicef and to Brazil to announce the creation of the third Beckham football academy demonstrated that his dance-card will never be empty.

His own readiness to undertake the purely commercial Brazilian excursion in the week of Capello’s announcement suggests he had already been tipped off about the manager’s disinclination to give him serious consideration for a place against Switzerland.

So while this is unlikely to be the last period in which Beckham exerts his right to dominate the headlines, his prospects of celebrating that longed-for century are getting slimmer, whatever Capello had to say about continuing to think of him as part of his plans.

After the match in the Stade de France on March 23 there will be only a handful of friendlies for the manager to try to insert him into whatever new pattern of play he has in mind, assuming he likes what he sees when the Galaxy are in action again.

Beckham can certainly take comfort from the presence in the squad of Michael Owen and Emile Heskey, whose inclusion proves that Capello has not set his face against the past, that it is not necessary to be playing in the Champions League to earn a call-up and that — in Owen’s case — current league form is not the only determining factor in his decisions. The manager will certainly have been impressed by the success of their reassembled partnership in the home victories over Israel and Russia in September.

Heskey’s subsequent withdrawal from the squad was felt particularly acutely as England’s Euro 2008 qualifying campaign fell apart with defeats against Russia in Moscow and Croatia at Wembley, and Owen’s performances for Newcastle in recent times have suffered from the lack of a robust and selfless fellow striker alongside him.

But now at least we know that Capello is not in the business of appeasing the egos of celebrities or of satisfying the expectations of that proportion of the capacity crowd who, we have been assured, bought their tickets believing that they would be invited to applaud the induction of a new member of the 100-plus club.

Beckham, as an exemplary professional, will not be of a mind to quarrel publicly or privately with the decision, and his past record suggests that he will fight hard to make it difficult for Capello to ignore him before the 2010 qualifying round starts in September.

He knows from their experience together at the Bernabeu Stadium a year ago that the coach, while resolute in his beliefs, is not inflexible in his decisions. Having ostracised Beckham on the basis of the decision to announce his move to Los Angeles several months in advance, Capello was subsequently willing to reverse his judgment and take advantage of the Englishman’s keenness to fight for the cause as Real Madrid pulled off a thrilling last-gasp victory in La Liga.

The respect Beckham earned for his efforts seems evident in the considerate tone of Capello’s remarks, however much real truth lies beneath the sentiment.

After 99 caps, 17 goals and 58 matches as captain, it would be unwise to write off Beckham’s chances of reaching his personal goal once he is back in the swing of competitive football. In the meantime, however, the failure of any of the young pretenders to make an impact would hardly be a cause for jubilation among the new management team. If England are to flourish under the Capello regime, they will probably need to be doing well enough to take Beckham’s return off the agenda once and for all.