Exit Godfather, exit Godson

Who would have thought it? Hardly had a much discussed and hardly eulogised Steve McClaren taken over — by default? — as the new manager of the England team that he had the guts immediately to drop David Beckham. That, in any case, is how I saw it. There have been other opinions, crocodile tears wept for Beckham, accusations, baseless in my opinion, that McClaren has simply been playing to the gallery.

Maybe so, maybe not. The fact remains that for a very long time now, Beckham had become, for the inept Sven-Goran Eriksson, a sacred obsession, to be cherished, indulged and chosen; even in positions which manifestly undermined the whole running of the team.

I am thinking specifically of two World Cup qualifying matches played last season, when Eriksson inexplicably and irrationally used Beckham not on the right wing but as a kind of deep lying quarter-back in midfield, where he could do no more than clog up the smooth running of the team. They narrowly escaped embarrassment against Wales in Cardiff and were thoroughly humiliated in Belfast by a Northern Ireland team, which seldom won a match and seldom scored a goal.

But using Beckham on the right flank severely limited the effectiveness of England's attack, while barring the way to naturally gifted wingers who could and would do the things, which classical wingers still can.

That is, to take on the opposing left-back, beat him with deft footwork and a body swerve on the outside, roar down the flank to the goal-line and pull back into the middle the most dangerous pass in the game. Something, which Beckham, the one trick pony, could never do.

Not that the trick, if one may so call it, was in any way to be undervalued. For Beckham, beyond dispute, has an astonishing right foot, remarkable alike for its power and subtlety. I once saw him score an amazing goal for Manchester United at Selhurst Park, from over 50 yards. And his free kicks and crosses have always been exceptional.

Even in the last World Cup, it was his cleverly insidious right-footed free kicks, which brought England two winning goals. First, in their opening match against Paraguay, when in the third minute his free kick so bewildered the opposing captain and centre-back Carlos Gamarra that he sliced the ball into his own net. And again against Ecuador, when his swerving free kick completely deceived the 'keeper and ended in the net.

But there was a heavy price for England to pay for such achievements. The price being that an England team deprived of a genuine right flanker had to rely far too heavily and uneasily on Beckham producing such feats. Something which became all too clear on the occasions when the dazzling young Spurs outside-right, Aaron Lennon, came on in his place to do all the fast, skilled, dangerous things a truly talented winger can do. Above all in the doomed quarter-final against Portugal, Beckham — actually withdrawn to right-back in the match versus Trinidad to make room for Lennon — went off injured, enabling Lennon to appear and electrify a team which came close to winning a game eventually lost on penalties.

Ultimately, however, the story of Beckham and his lugubrious wife, Relatively Posh Spice (that accent!) will surely be material for the sociologists, rather than the football writers. Just how have the pair of them, and notably Beckham himself, become global symbols, generating enormous sums of money, adulated, in his case, not only in Europe but in the Far East? Interesting comparisons may be made with his predecessor as a Manchester United winger, George Best, who was just as handsome, and an immeasurably more gifted footballer.

Best, whose life alas fell apart after he retired, once boastfully said, "If I'd been born ugly, you'd never have heard of Pele." But it is the far less-gifted Beckham who has become the cynosure of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, Beckham and his wife, the very essence of conspicuous consumption, whose grotesquely flamboyant and vulgar parties — remember their outrageous Irish wedding, when they sat on thrones? — which mysteriously attracted the "great" and the supposedly good from every conceivable quarter.

At their pre-World Cup jamboree, even the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, prey to the prevailing mystique, went so far as to cadge a ticket from the Editor of the tabloid News of the World, though he expressed some residual defiance by turning up among the hordes of the expensively dressed, wearing an open necked shirt!

Beckham doggedly and triumphantly overcame the ignominy of his expulsion from England's 1998 World Cup game in Saint Etienne versus Argentina, when he petulantly kicked out at Diego Simeone while lying on the ground.

In Japan, in 2002, he had revenge through his winning penalty against the Argentines in Sapporo, but jumped high in the air to avoid a tackle in the quarter-final against Brazil, who thus went on to score their equalising goal. That famed right-foot missed penalties in an eliminator against Turkey in Istanbul, in the 2002 European finals against France, who went on to win.

His relations with his wife, a member of the synthetic Spice Girls group, and no singer at all, who always looks as if she was weaned on a pickle, long seemed the dominant force, but now the tables have been turned and she has had to put up with his various, much-publicised infidelities. Still, his millions have poured in from infinite commercial endorsements. At the very moment of his exclusion by McClaren, he has launched a new perfume. But the present odour is hardly sweet.