David Beckham’s career, internationally and at the elite club level (the MLS doesn’t count, no disrespect intended) appears over having snapped his Achilles tendon over the weekend. But don’t fear England fans. England’s chances at the World Cup will only be minimally impacted by his absence.
At 34 years of age, Beckham’s presence at the World Cup was far from guaranteed. Despite some impressive performances for AC Milan, including his stint at his former stomping ground of Old Trafford against his beloved Manchester United in the Champions League last week, England coach Fabio Capello has a wealth of options in the middle of the park and Beckham was far from guaranteed a spot on the flight to South Africa – something he acknowledged only days ago.
The likes of Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips have the pace and youth that Beckham has lost with age, and were likely to feature ahead of Beckham on the right.
The fact he had prolonged his international career beyond Germany 2006, where injury appeared to have ended his England career, speaks volumes of his hunger and desire – something often lost in the focus on his ‘celebrity’.
England’s hopes of ending their 44-year World Cup drought rest with the likes of Wayne Rooney who is in devastating form for club; Rio Ferdinand and John Terry who must be fit to help stabilise England’s sometime shaky defensive unit; the ever-reliable Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard rising to the occasion; and the likes of Walcott and Lennon – the new brigade – providing that spark that has been lacking for England in recent campaigns.
If those boxes can be ticked, and England can overcome their mental fragility (and penalty shootout performances), then England under Capello can go all the way, with or without Becks. They have the talent and the coach needed.
Where Beckham will be missed is in his experience and footballing brain, but England’s fortunes weren’t relying on Beckham’s right foot. His presence would have been a bonus for Capello, possibly in a cameo role akin to his performance for AC Milan in the Champions League.
Capello’s concerns are not of missing Beckham but rather the increasingly worrying goalkeeper question mark and defensive doubts. Beckham was a sidebar.
Beckham’s career had often read like a fairytale. He was earmarked for greatness at a young age, schooled at Manchester United and played an important role in the team which peaked with the Treble victory in 1998–99, ending his Spanish career with La Liga success, playing missionary (while pocketing a fortune) in the USA, then returning to Europe in somewhat of a second-coming. He was blessed with the looks most us envy, married a pop star and rose to a level of celebrity we have not witnessed for a sportsman.
His recent return to Manchester, which included a very public show of support to the club’s supporters, could well have been the swansong to his fairytale career, and not lifting the World Cup in Johannesburg as he had hoped.