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Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Capello in tough spot when it came to decision on Beckham


LONDON — Fabio Capello was always going to be damned if he picked David Beckham and damned if he dropped him for his first game as England manager against Switzerland on Wednesday.

Christopher Davies

The heart said Beckham should play and win his 100th cap, the mind said someone who has not played a competitive game since England's Euro 2008 qualifying defeat by Croatia in November cannot have the level of match fitness needed at international level.

Beckham has been training at Arsenal and said that he is "as fit as I can be."

There is training ground fit and international match fit, though. It also didn't help Beckham that for the last week he has been in Sierra Leone and Brazil, albeit promoting good causes, rather than maintaining his fitness level with Arsenal.

Few would begrudge Beckham membership to England's 100 Club alongside Peter Shilton, Sir Bobby Charlton, Billy Wright and Bobby Moore. But no England cap, not even a landmark one that Beckham is seeking, should be given gratuitously. Every cap should be earned on merit not given almost as a present.

If Beckham wins his 100th cap it will be because Capello thinks he deserves it and has something to offer the team.

Capello said: "The reason that David is not in the squad is because he has not had any real match practice since playing in November.

"When I spoke with David on the phone on Wednesday I advised him that he is still part of my plans and once he is playing regularly in America we will look closely at him again."

Beckham fought his way back into the England team after Steve McClaren initially dropped the former captain.

Capello left Beckham out for the first half of his last season at Real Madrid but the Italian brought the midfielder back, which was the springboard for their Spanish League success.

Ahead of Beckham for the right-midfield place are Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Spurs) and David Bentley (Blackburn).

There is, of course, the distinct possibility Beckham may not play for England again and missing out on his 100th cap.

Capello doesn't do sentiment, and if Beckham goes into the record books winning "only" 99 caps, the Italian will not lose a wink of sleep.

The new England manager also has to make a decision on the issue of who will be captain, something which the 61-year-old has given paramount importance to.

"There are many things I have to evaluate and I must come up with a choice that is right," he said. "A captain must be a leader, someone who carries the team, somebody that in every moment is important for the team."

Chelsea center-back John Terry was the captain under McClaren, but he is injured.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has given his endorsement to Rio Ferdinand, while Liverpool's Steven Gerrard will also be in the running.

United midfielder Owen Hargreaves might be a dark horse in the captaincy stakes.

* * * * *

NEWS FLASH: A loud explosion has been heard in the northeast of England.

First reports say it is Newcastle's bubble bursting.

Just one of many jokes doing the rounds as Newcastle starts life for the second time under Kevin Keegan.

Two defeats, one draw and no goals scored is not the stuff of messiahs.

Those who took a less emotional view of Keegan's return are unsurprised that Newcastle is not suddenly playing like Brazil.

The Geordie nation wanted the club's record goal scorer Alan Shearer on board as Keegan assistant, but the former striker is too big a personality to be anyone's No. 2.

Incredibly, it took a four-hour telephone conversation between the pair to decide Shearer was not going to be Keegan's right-hand man.

Team Keegan will include Dennis Wise, who quit as manager of Leeds to become Newcastle's executive director.

A few years ago, Wise broke the jaw of Leicester teammate Callum Davison in a cowardly attack (which the powers that be deemed not to be a sacking offense).

Now Wise, whose experience of management in the Premier League is zero, will oversee all off-field football operations along with Tony Jimenez, who is vice president (player recruitment) and Jeff Vetete who is technical coordinator, whatever that is.

The ego's have landed and the sound of political knives being sharpened is likely to be as loud as the groans from Newcastle supporters.

* * * * *

THE FOOTBALL Association has started a pilot scheme at county level whereby only the captain is allowed to speak to the referee.

This, it is hoped, will discourage the surrounding of the referee by players unhappy with his decision. If anyone other than the captain approaches the referee he will be asked to "back off," and if he doesn't, he will be cautioned.

Anything that helps match officials gain more respect and discourages the ugly harassing of referees should be applauded.

Yet it is difficult to see how this change will change the attitude of £100,000 a week professionals who think they have been hard done by.

You can't alter inbred attitudes just like that.

Had referees been stronger, and the F.A. backed them fully, punishing the lynch-mobs who think that by angrily telling the man in charge he is wrong the decision will be changed, then the latest initiative would not be necessary.

Referees have always been able to caution dissenting players, but few have the courage to show the yellow card to four harassing offenders, not least if it means one or two would have to be sent off.

Christopher Davies writes about the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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