The David Beckham debate
Should England bring Becks to World Cup in South Africa?
It's Fabio Capello's decision, of course, but everybody in the soccer world seems to have an opinion.
Should Capello, the dapper Italian manager of England's national team, name Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham to his 23-man roster for this year's World Cup in South Africa?
A former captain of England, Beckham is eager to represent his country at a fourth consecutive World Cup, so much so that he secured a loan deal with AC Milan, allowing him to stay in game shape in Italy over the next few months during Major League Soccer's off-season.
Capello has publicly stated that Beckham must be playing first-team soccer at the highest level (read: not MLS) in the buildup to the World Cup to even be considered for the English national team this summer.
Thus far, Beckham has made a handful of appearances for Milan and figures to be a regular starter for the Rossoneri as they attempt to chase down city rivals Inter Milan, currently in first place in Serie A, for the Italian league championship
But the question remains: does Becks deserve a seat on the plane to South Africa?
Wealth of experience
CBC Sports soccer commentator Nigel Reed believes Capello would be well advised to bring Beckham, if for no other reason than the fact the veteran midfielder, who is England's most-capped outfield player with 115 appearances, has played and scored at three World Cups and has a wealth of international experience.
"He is a leader and an inspiration to his teammates. Equally, he is feared and respected by all of his opponents. He's vastly experienced on the international stage. He's a big-game player who doesn't get intimidated by anyone," Reed said.
Resolve and dedication are other key character traits possessed by Beckham that impress Reed.
Beckham became a national pariah when he earned a red card during a second-round match at the 1998 World Cup for petulantly kicking at Argentina's Diego Simeone.
Forced to play a man short, England lost the game and was eliminated from the tournament. When the team returned from France, Beckham was pilloried by the English media and fans — burning effigies of the former Manchester United star became the norm all across England.
His reputation has recovered since, as Beckham has demonstrated great resiliency for both club and country: he helped Real Madrid, then coached by Capello, to win the Spanish league title in 2007 after being benched for a stretch of games by the Italian.
A great survivor
"He has a huge heart, and I would argue that nobody is prouder than Beckham to represent his country," Reed said. "I think he's a great survivor. He's proved his critics wrong time and time again, and he's proved Capello wrong before. And he's made personal and financial sacrifices merely to justify his own selection."
Henry Winter, chief soccer correspondent for England's Daily Telegraph, offers an opposing view, believing an aging Beckham will be a liability for the English team at a World Cup that most pundits are predicting will be played at a lighting pace.
"I think it's going to be a counter-attacking World Cup. I think it's going to be all about speed. And Beckham turns 35 in May," Winter said.
Maintaining possession and shifting the ball forward with a quick succession of pass-and-move manoeuvres has become the dominant tactical theme in soccer over the past two years. Beckham's strengths, his crossing ability and prowess from dead-ball situations, won't serve him well at a World Cup where players need to be quick of body and thought.
"You only need to look at the past two years and see the kind of teams that are doing well. They're the ones that have players who can change though gears quickly: U.S., Spain and Brazil," Winter said.
But Reed doesn't think Beckham's lack of natural speed should discount him for World Cup duty.
"By his own admission, Beckham's never been a quick player," Reed offered. "But when you've got that cultured right foot of his that can deliver a curling cross or a free kick from 30 yards out, why do you need the speed when the ball will do the work for you?"
One of Capello's major achievements since taking over as manager in 2007 is the way he has fundamentally changed the culture of the English team.
During the 2006 World Cup, the English tabloids provided non-stop coverage of the socializing and shopping activities of Beckham's pop star wife Victoria, a former member of the Spice Girls, and the WAGs (the wives and girlfriends of national team members) while in Germany.
It was frequently suggested that England's perceived "softness" and the Hollywood culture that enveloped the team, plus the distraction of the WAGs, manifested in its early exit from the tournament.
Capello put a stop to such nonsense, but Winter believes the Italian runs a serious risk of that toxic environment resurfacing within the team if Beckham is named to the World Cup roster for South Africa.
"I'm sure he'll be in Capello's squad, but personally I wouldn't have him there because there's too much of a media circus that inevitably comes with Beckham," Winter opined.
Again, Reed disagrees: "You could argue that there are others who carry the same sort of unnecessary baggage. When you're playing tournament soccer, you're pretty isolated and Capello has made it clear he won't stand for that from anybody, whoever it happens to be."
Perhaps the most compelling and persistent argument trotted out by critics is that Capello has better and younger options, players who can play a variety of positions in midfield, unlike Beckham, who is primarily a right midfielder.
"He's got Theo Walcott out there, who's fantastic when he's healthy," Winter said. "Aaron Lennon is flying for Spurs, so he's a great option. Capello absolutely loves James Milner because he plays right wing, right back, left wing, left back — he can play all over the place. He's a versatile option."
But of those three players, only Lennon has played at the World Cup before, and Reed isn't convinced that Lennon, Walcott or Milner (all in their early 20s) should be considered ahead of the more experienced Beckham.
"Lennon has wonderful pace and wonderful skill, but people are still questioning his final ball," Reed stated. "I'm not sure that unless you are the complete package that that necessarily gets you the vote over someone who's been there and done it many times before.
"If it were a choice between Milner and Beckham, there would be no choice — Beckham should go. Milner is a great up-and-comer, but I think you need experience and Beckham has the edge there."