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99 and out?

Fabio Capello has a reputation for being his own man, and he has wasted no time in emphasising this by omitting David Beckham from his first England squad for the friendly against Switzerland next week, leaving the former captain still on 99 caps.

It’s a brave decision. And, dare I say it, the correct one.

If that makes me an emotionless killjoy, then so be it. But what I want to see next week is the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips and David Bentley have a full 90 minutes to demonstrate whether they are good enough to claim the number 7 shirt for themselves, rather than cram it into 70 to accommodate a carnival cameo.

Notwithstanding Capello’s long-term plans, right here, right now, Beckham certainly isn’t the first (or even second) choice right-sided midfielder for next week’s game. Since England’s defeat to Croatia in mid-November, he has played the grand total of zero competitive minutes. It’s been longer still since he played a full match. Beckham’s ability to deliver a telling ball isn’t in question here, but his stamina and effectiveness over anywhere near 90 minutes certainly is.

Of course, it’s not necessarily all over for Beckham. It may be that he forces his way back into the squad over the coming months and secures that elusive hundredth cap after all, although his advancing age, declining physical abilities and his isolation in the footballing backwater that is LA would seem to count against this. And if that’s the case, so be it.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against David Beckham, who has been a fantastic servant to his country and has never given less than 100%. And of course it would be nice if he were to complete his century of international appearances. But the thought of him trotting out for 10 or 15 minutes as a sub, just so he can take his bow in front of the Wembley crowd, devalues what it means to play for England, even if it is only a ‘meaningless’ friendly. (As if any England game is regarded as meaningless by the vultures in the tabloid press!)

David Beckham has earned 99 caps, which is no trivial achievement in itself. If he earns his hundredth on merit, I will be the first to applaud. But international football is a sport, and modern-day sport (as we are always being reminded) is a business, not a charity. Beckham should not be given number 100 out of some misguided sentimentaility, any more than a batsman who has reached 99 would expect to be gifted his century.

Beckham may play in Hollywood now, but that alone doesn’t guarantee him the fairy-tale ending. Nor should it.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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