Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Beckham must go... and so say all of us

THE football-speaking world will forever remember March 15 as Becksout Day. And this morning, the Achilles tendon expert Dr Sakari Orava, explains from the now-famous Mehilainen clinic in the Finnish town of Turku: "David Beckham will be able to walk with the help of crutches this afternoon. The operation was done, it went well but it will take many months for him to recover."

According to the counter on FIFA.com, the World Cup is now 86 days and a few hours away. Just not enough time for Becks, who has walked on water occasionally over the last 25 years, to recover in time for that record-breaking fourth World Cup tournament.

Instead, he must languish on three with the great Peter Shilton and the late Bobby Moore. And, barring miracles, he will also remain stuck on 115 England caps, ten short of Shilts.

Ironic that a Finnish bloke should announce Beckham's career is finished. There were screaming fans and paparazzi to go with the pre-op preparations in Helsinki yesterday, but then everything Beckham has done is accompanied by such scenes.

By now we've all seen the last on-field scenes from the San Siro on Sunday night. Milan are 1-0 up against Chieva, Becks goes to kick the ball, his left leg won't move. He hesitates, looking confused. Then tries again. Collapses. Shouts: "It's broken, it's broken."

Awful moments. But, and this is my point, far better it should end like that, four days after a standing ovation at Old Trafford, than he should struggle on at 34 trying to impress England boss Fabio Capello.

The Generalissimo is not a sentimental chap. He would have been hard-pressed to include Beckham in his 30-man squad on May 11. And with Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips, James Milner, Aaron Lennon and Joe Cole all clamouring for the wide-right berth, it would have been impossible to keep him in when the squad is reduced to 23 on June 1.

Everyone knew that after the friendly against Egypt a fortnight ago. Walcott went off for SWP and the game turned around while Becks sat gloomily on the bench. International career over. The very best he could have expected from his record-breaking fourth World Cup would have been the occasional shot of him sitting on the bench in that huge Kalabash of a stadium at Soccer City on July 11 while his young team-mates celebrate ending 44 years of stiff-upper lipped hurt.

But everyone was in denial yesterday, ignoring the evidence of the 3-1 friendly win over African champions Egypt. Sky News, Sky Sports News, the newspapers... even Adrian and Darren Gough at talkSPORT when I spoke to them. All insisted Becks would have been a glorious impact sub for England. An impact sub? At 34? Beckham doesn’t waltz past players like SWP. He doesn’t have the raw pace of Walcott, the engine of Milner. He’s a crosser, a deadball expert, a leader, a talisman.

For Beckham, it was always a starting place or not at all. And, secretly, Capello must be breathing a sigh of relief that he won’t have to make that awful decision on May 11 or June 1. Had he dropped Becks, the world would have savaged the Italian for his heartless axe.

Now we can remember Becks for what he was. The boy who scored from the halfway line against Wimbledon in 1996, who became a man in the aftermath of the red card against Argentina in 1998, who joined Real Madrid and helped them to the title in 2004, who led a new American revolution with LA Galaxy and faded from the scene with dignity on loan at Milan.

Today a “source close to the family” tells The Sun: “This is probably the lowest point he has ever encountered in his professional career. Words cannot express how devastated David is.

"Mentally this is disastrous. He thinks he's being punished for something he must have done wrong in life, which of course is ridiculous."

As wife Victoria turns up to comfort her man, the source adds: “David has been crying and is in deep shock.

"Football is his life and he feels like it has been unfairly taken away from him. He's just so low.”

Yes, he must be low. But in time he will realise fate has dealt him a hand which he can cope with, even thrive on. And as I said to the Sky News crew here at home in Chalfont St Giles on Sunday night, the perfect conclusion is this: Capello invites Beckham to join the squad on June 1. To add his expertise, his statesmanship to the mix.

I received twitters and Facebook messages from all over the world yesterday saying: “Beckham must be at the World Cup.” In South Africa, I told 702 radio listeners: “Don’t worry, David Beckham will be there. He will still be our figurehead.”

No, he won’t be there as a player, but he should go as football’s celebrity talisman. It would ease the pressure on Capello and the players, particularly Wayne Rooney, our spearhead.

On the field, Beckham’s departure was sadly inevitable. Off the field, he can remain a vital ingredient.

And we haven’t even talked about the 2018 World Cup yet, when he will be Capello’s right hand man as they attempted to make it a global hat-trick. We can dream, can’t we?

Now let’s move on. Jose Mourinho and InterMilan are at Chelsea tonight in the Champions League. Should be a special occasion.

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