Hello. My name is Fabio Capello. Over the past 18 months, I have been hailed as the savior of English football. Under my stewardship, England easily qualified for the World Cup Finals next year in South Africa. Granted, our qualifying group was fantastically weak, and in our friendlies against other big nations like Spain and Brazil we have come out second best, but no matter. We are going to South Africa and I am taking with me the latest version of “England’s best team in a generation.”
Like all national team coaches, I know that once we land in South Africa, my job is mostly done. My starting XI largely pick themselves, and while a few tactical decisions may impact a thing or two, by the time June rolls around, the cards will have been dealt and I will be trying to best play the hand I have got. I know that my toughest job comes in April when I announce which 23 players will be boarding that plane to South Africa, and at the moment, I have a hard time figuring out how David Beckham is one of them.
All of England may be proclaiming the brilliance of my team, but I am not so convinced. I know I have holes. Rio Ferdinand looks shaky in the back, but he is a lot better than my third central defender, whoever that is. Up front, Wayne Rooney is one of my strikers, but, this past weekend aside, is Jermaine Defoe really the best I have got for that other striker? On the left side of my midfield, I have some good options, but no great ones. However, the one place where I am thick with talent is the right side of the midfield.
Aaron Lennon is terrific. Theo Walcott, who got me off to a great start in Croatia last year, is even better than Lennon when he is fit. Shaun Wright-Philips is having the season we all knew he could have once he got out from his purgatory at Chelsea. Do I have room on my 23 man squad for four right-sided mid fielders? No way. Is David Beckham going to beat out any of these three younger, faster, better players?
For most England fans, the thought of Beckham not being on the team is unimaginable. But most England fans have not watched the tape of all of Beckham’s games with the Los Angeles Galaxy over the past four months. I have. Sure, he has had his moments. He had a great game against Toronto FC a couple of months ago. That pass to Landon Donovan in the second playoff game against Chivas was pretty sweet. He had a couple of other moments that hearken back to his earlier days, but those flashes were far and few between.
Unlike most England fans, I am not just watching the highlights that end up on You Tube. I am watching the whole game, and seeing how often he was stripped of the ball in the midfield, how he labored to get up and down the pitch in a normal game and how many of his passes were easily cut off by defenders that will all be watching the World Cup on TV next year. I also saw that his dead ball skills are on the wane and how goalies I have never heard of easily gobble up those few balls that actually clear the wall. Frankly, if he was on the England team, I cannot think of a scenario where he is my best option to send out on the pitch.
A few of the fellows have told me that they really like having him on the squad and that he is a positive influence in the dressing room. Great, but experience is not in short supply on my team. I have plenty of senior players who know how to inspire my younger guys, and my 23 slots are too valuable to give one away to someone who is just a good dinner companion.
To be honest, by April I don’t think that this decision will be controversial. If the Beckham I have watched over the past four months is the Beckham that shows up next month in Milan, I fear he will be cooking himself for dinner for all to see. Honestly, his body is wearing out. He is at the age where a little knock takes weeks of recovery time. In the MLS, you can spend some of that recovery time actually on the pitch making a contribution, but Serie A is no MLS. The players are too skilled not to see any weakness and exploit it, and a healthy Beckham now has a lot of weaknesses. A dinged up Beckham – well, he will be low-hanging fruit to rest of the teams in Italy. It could be an ugly few months for Beckham in Milan.
I like David Beckham. He showed me a lot of heart back in Madrid. He is one of the main reasons why I have a La Liga medal at home. But I am hard man. Nostalgia does not mean much to me. Players on the pitch who can help me win games are just about all I care about. And given that, I can’t see taking Beckham to South Africa with me next summer.