The end of Beckhamitis

David Beckham should have been dealt out of the game as long as five years ago. The sad truth being that Beckham, as an outside right had long become a one trick pony. With no pace to speak of, little ability ever to beat the opposing fullback on the outside, with the aim of getting to the by-line and pulling back the most dangerous pass in the game, he was reduced to his one major weapon, a superb right foot, writes Brian Glanville.

Have we at long last come to the end of what I have classified as Beckhamitis? And a rather sticky end it has been. You will be well aware that under the bewilderingly tolerant aegis of Fabio Capello as the England manager, David Beckham has been awarded a long series of international caps for what have been politely described as cameo appearances. Sometimes, though rarely, as long as 45 minutes, a whole half of a game, more often, almost always of course, as a substitute, for as little as a quarter of an hour.

As a consequence of this extreme indulgence, Beckham has now amassed a misleading total of 115 caps. This puts him six ahead of the celebrated Bobby Moore, capped, usually as the England skipper, 109 times. All of them bar one over a full 90-minute period, the distinguished exception being when he famously captained England to World Cup victory in the Wembley final of 1966.

That Beckham internationally — and notoriously — has been living on borrowed time could hardly be rationally denied.

On the occasion of England's friendly at Wembley against Hungary, it suddenly became known that Capello, having indulged Beckham for so long had revealed in a television interview — filmed before the game but made known only almost in conjunction with it — that he thought Beckham was now too old to command a place in his team. This without, it transpired, having personally informed Beckham himself.

Instant, almost hysterical outrage. Acres of print next day and afterwards were devoted to deploring the way Beckham had been treated, making him a kind of martyr. Though it later transpired that though Capello himself hadn't spoken directly to the player, his Italian sidekick, Franco Baldini had phoned him in Los Angeles to inform him of what Capello had said. True, it would have been more tactful of Capello to speak to Beckham himself. But not to do so however tactless, was hardly a crime against humanity and was surely outweighed by the two years of special treatment Beckham had had from a strongly misguided manager.

For my own part, I feel that Beckham should have been dealt out of the game as long as five years ago. The sad truth being that Beckham, as an outside right had long become a one trick pony. With no pace to speak of, little ability ever to beat the opposing fullback on the outside, with the aim of getting to the by-line and pulling back the most dangerous pass in the game, he was reduced to his one major weapon, a superb right foot, for the delivery of free kicks, corners and crosses. Rather like a howitzer which delivered its shells from far away. Though penalties were missed as well as scored.

This superb right foot had brought many an important goal for clubs and country. I can even well remember a stupendous shot from close to the halfway line with which he scored, against all probability, at Selhurst Park. Nor must one forget the invaluable goal he scored against Greece at Sheffield from a late free kick — procured cunningly, though not legally by Teddy Sheringham. It gave England an underserved equaliser and qualified them for the finals of the 2002 World Cup.

A tournament in which his right foot would play a decisive part, with it, he drove home the penalty whereby England defeated Argentina, thereby eliminating them from Group H and proceeding to the quarterfinals.

But there, alas, he was guilty of an error, or an evasion, which cost England the equalising goal for Brazil. Perhaps he should not wholly be blamed, since an Argentine opponent had fouled him badly at Old Trafford in a European Cup game, breaking his metatarsal bone. It was therefore touch and go whether he would even be fit to play in the finals. As it was, he jumped out of the way of a potential tackle with the Brazilian attacker, Ronaldinho; he thus cleared the way for the Brazilian equaliser.

It wasn't, though, as lamentable an error as the one he committed at the World Cup of 1998, in the second round match against Argentina, in Saint Etienne. Two minutes into the second half, Beckham was fouled by the provocative Diego Simeone. Though he had been warned time and again by Glenn Hoddle, the England manager, about the dangers of retaliation, he petulantly kicked out at the Argentine while on the ground, and was instantly sent off by the referee. So England had to labour on gallantly all the way through extra-time only to go out on penalties.

The consequence of this was that Beckham became something of a hate figure. Even two years later, in the finals of the European Championship in the Low Countries, he was viciously abused by a bunch of young thugs as he came off the field after England lost their last game. It was impossible then to see what a talismanic figure he would become.

In parallel with his football career, his good looks brought him infinite riches from commercial contracts. As time went by, he and his lugubrious, epicene wife, nicknamed Posh Spice, as a largely inaudible member of the Spice Girls singing group-became hugely fashionable figures, throwing parties at colossal expense in their expensive home, to which pop stars and minor celebrities flocked in droves.

But at Manchester United, for all his fame and perhaps even because of it, he fell out with his mentor and manager, Alex Ferguson, who once in anger, after a game, propelled a boot across the dressing room which hit Beckham just above the eye. A transfer to Real Madrid followed. He was greeted with euphoria by fans at Madrid airport, but when Capello, as manager, turned the light of his countenance away from him, he was out of the team for many weeks. Only to return.

After his disappointing 2002 World Cup, the new manager, the unimpressive Steve McClaren, had the courage to drop him from the team, but hadn't the courage to keep him out.

Sven Goran Eriksson indulged him; it was all too plain in the 2006 World Cup finals that he was keeping the far faster and younger Aaron Lennon out of the team. As he has subsequently stood in the way of a succession of right wingers with the pace and ball skills which he lacked.

So to Capello and more inexplicable preference when Lennon, Milner, and Wright Phillips could all so obviously do a far better and more effective job. Yet, heavily tattooed, elegantly barbered, Beckham has somehow continued to punch far above his weight, not only as a footballer, but as a commercial symbol. His transfer to the Los Angels Galaxy has not been a wholly happy one; there have been times when their fans have accused him of not pulling his weight, a charge made but withdrawn by talented winger Landon Donovan too.