Friday, February 1, 2008

David Beckham Deserves his 100th Cap

With the announcement of the 30-man provisional squad selected by new England coach Fabio Capello yesterday for the upcoming friendly against Switzerland, I thought it was time for me to weigh in on the “Does Becks deserve his 100th cap?” debate.

Let me make something clear first. I have no problem whatsoever with Beckham not being picked for this game. He’s not match fit, and it’s that simple. You can’t justify putting him on the roster when he’s been training for a month with Arsenal’s reserves over players like David Bentley, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Ashley Young, guys who have been playing competitively in the Premier League all winter and play that same wide position (although Young plays on the left for Aston Villa). Again, I completely understand the rationale behind that decision.

Capello left the door open to recall Becks to the squad if he is on good form when the MLS season kicks off this spring and I have no doubt he will be. Capello and Beckham have a history of this same sort of thing from Real Madrid last year, where Beckham impressed the manager so much in training that he put Becks back into the starting lineup (where he played an integral role in helping Madrid win La Liga) even after chairman Ramón Calderón stated that the former would never play for the Spanish giant again after his declaration to move to the LA Galaxy that summer.

I’m not sure how you can make the argument that Beckham doesn’t deserve his 100th cap for everything he’s done for England and soccer in that nation, both with the national team and with Manchester United. You can say that Beckham isn’t part of England’s future, which is correct, but this discussion isn’t about whether he will play any part in World Cup 2010 or even the qualifying campaign. This is about whether he should lead the team out of the tunnel for one more game, whether he should receive the honor of 100 caps for England, something done only by four players previously. It would be a milestone figure for Beckham, and one that he’s truly earned through his accomplishments on and off the field.

Beckham’s reputation as a player is well-documented. Notable figures in the game like his former managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Capello have praised him for his consummate professionalism and dedication. He was a part of six Premiership winners at Manchester United, where he also won a Champions League and two FA Cups. He was the runner-up for the FIFA World Player of the Year award on two occasions (1999 and 2001). Without Becks’ free kick against Greece in October 2001, England wouldn’t have even qualified for World Cup 2002. In that match, he was the only England player to step up and it was his performance that carried the rest of the team. In World Cup 2006, Beckham played a direct part (either through a goal or an assist) in four of England’s six goals in the tournament. He became the first English player ever to score in three different World Cups. Since that World Cup, he’s played in four matches for England and totaled four assists.

Beckham served as England’s captain for 58 of the 99 games he’s appeared in, from November 15, 2000 to July 2, 2006, when England lost on penalties to Portugal in the World Cup quarterfinals. After that loss, Beckham was the definition of a great captain. We saw him consoling his teammates, picking them up off the field and embracing them, shaking hands with the Portuguese players, and applauding the fans as he went into the tunnel. Six years’ worth of wearing the armband is a remarkable accomplishment and in terms of “matches captained”, Beckham ranks fourth in England national team history. It’s common knowledge that his tenure and leadership was instrumental in the career of many English players, Wayne Rooney most noticeably. Rooney was a loose cannon for Everton, England, and for Manchester United when he first arrived at Old Trafford, but the time he spent around Beckham with England really seemed to change him as a player.

Do I think Beckham deserves that 100th cap? Of course. Do I think he’ll actually get it? Yes. Barring injury, there’s simply no way he won’t get it and I think the only question is when, not if, it will happen. I believe Capello will want him to get it at home in front of the fans, so I’m predicting Beckham will captain the squad for the last time in the game against Kazakhstan on October 11 of this year. Prior to that, there are two other World Cup qualifiers but they’re both away, so I don’t think he’ll play in either of those games. Of course, the middle of the MLS season (when Beckham should be in full stride) would come closer to the September 6 match at Andorra, and even though Beckham should be in better form than most of the Premiership players who are just getting their season underway, I’m not sure if he would get that 100th cap on the road.

David Beckham deserves his 100th cap. He’s contributed enormously to English soccer over the years and served his country as captain for 58 matches. He’s carried the team and won important games single-handedly. He’s influenced many players both on and off the field in tremendous, positive ways.

How can this man not reach that honored milestone?

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