Beckham comeback is a backwards step

May 26 2007

David Beckham is back in the England squad. He deserves to be there. I can’t think of another English right-sided midfielder who has been as consistently effective over the last few months.

But in spite of this, I don’t think he should be in the squad.

Suppose Beckham comes back, plays a blinder against Estonia and gets England’s Euro 2008 qualifying campaign back on track. What then? There is clamour for him to be included in the next squad, and, in all possibility, the squad after that and the squad after that.

Having dragged everyone through the rigmarole of his decision to step down as captain following England’s World Cup exit last summer, he won’t allow himself to be dropped again without putting up a (doubtless heavily publicised) fight.

All of which will set back England’s progress as a team. McClaren was right to drop Beckham in the first place. He was looking to the future. So bringing Beckham back is a backwards step, even if he is the in-form right-sided midfielder at the moment.

It’s unfortunate that players like Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips and David Bentley haven’t been able to stake a claim for the number seven berth in Beckham’s absence, but the decision to recall Beckham suggests McClaren has no faith in them.

Beckham is not England’s future, no matter how well he’s playing. He is England’s over-hyped, gratuitously self-important past.

Furthermore, putting him in the team means the side has to be balanced with a left-sided player who will provide similar width. As a consequence, either Joe Cole has to play as a traditional left winger, or the typically ineffectual Stuart Downing is brought into the side, and if England’s first choice strike partnership is Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, there is no need for wide midfielders whose principle asset is their crossing ability.

McClaren must experiment. He must be allowed to experiment. He will lose matches. He will get huge amounts of flak. But the future of English football depends on it. The 4-4-2 must be abandoned. Players like Joe Cole and Aaron Lennon and David Bentley must be given the freedom to play their natural game, not tied to the touchline like 1950s-style wingers.

And Beckham must be allowed to go to America to finish his career without constant speculation about whether or not he merits a place in the England team.

Many players could be said to ‘deserve’ a place in the England team. But the team should consist of the best eleven players capable of playing together in a particular system, not the eleven most deserving.

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