Wed, Oct 11, 2006 - Page 19 News List

England in need of that old David Beckham magic

AP , LONDON

Real Madrid's David Beckham watches from the bench as his team plays against Atletico de Madrid during a Spanish League match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on Oct. 1.

PHOTO: AFP

Bring back Beckham!

England's 0-0 draw at home against modest Macedonia showed that coach Steve McClaren was too hasty in dumping the former captain whose expertly hit free kick took England to the World Cup quarter-finals -- only to be told he was no longer in the new coach's plans.

Beckham's World Cup goal against Ecuador turned out to be his last in 94 games. He sat in tears after limping out of the quarter-finals against Portugal and watched his teammates lose in a penalty shootout.

Dropped

Taking over from Sven-Goran Eriksson after the World Cup, McClaren phoned Beckham and told him he had been dropped.

While England was struggling on Saturday against Macedonia, a Euro 2008 qualifying opponent it should have beaten easily, Beckham was nowhere near Old Trafford, the stadium where he learned his trade with Manchester United.

He wasn't playing for Real Madrid either. There were no Spanish league games over the weekend because that country's national team was in Sweden for another Euro 2008 qualifying match.

It wasn't as if Beckham was pursuing the other lucrative side of his millionaire lifestyle, appearing at photo shoots for sunglasses, watches, razors or soft drinks. Or at his wife's side at a Paris fashion show.

Beckham was fit and available, and should have been wearing the white shirt of England.

A month ago, McClaren's bold decision to drop the high-profile star and reshape the England team along different lines appeared on the surface to be the right one. The results said so.

After beating European champion Greece 4-0 in a friendly, McClaren's new-look team outplayed Andorra 5-0. A 1-0 victory at Macedonia put England on top of its Euro 2008 group, giving McClaren three shutouts in his first three games.

So far so good.

But there were signs in that shaky victory at Macedonia that things were far from perfect.

England's players couldn't keep possession of the ball and, when they didn't have it, couldn't get it back. Only goal-line clearances and a scrambling defense secured that victory.

When Macedonia played at Old Trafford, England didn't create enough chances for strikers Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch. What they would have given for one of Beckham's long, accurate passes to open up the Macedonian defense.

Even the Macedonians said before the game they were relieved that Beckham wasn't playing. It meant they could afford to give away free kicks 25m or so from goal because Beckham wasn't around to bend them into the back of the net.

Now, after dropping two points at home, England faces a tough visit to Croatia today to stay atop its qualifying group.

With Steven Gerrard suspended and Aaron Lennon injured, it should be the ideal situation for Beckham to be recalled on the right side of midfield, his regular position.

Although McClaren said he had not "closed the door" on Beckham, he made it clear that the 31-year-old midfielder was not part of his plans. He believes that changing his mind would undermine his credibility to make important decisions.

McClaren has never said it, but the word from inside the England camp was that Beckham was too old and too slow and too much of a showbiz personality. He was considered indispensable by Eriksson and his camera-hogging marketing appeal made him look bigger than the team.

Humble pie

But Beckham never gave less than complete commitment whenever he pulled on the England shirt and McClaren should swallow his pride and bring him back.

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