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Saturday, March 29, 2008


Capello's England less than impressive in loss to France

LONDON — Fabio Capello keeps his team selections not so much close to his chest but super-glued, yet if the England manager is true to his word David Beckham will win his 101st cap against the United States at Wembley Stadium on May 28 as long as the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder is in the squad.

Christopher Davies

"I wouldn't bring him all this way not to play him," said Capello the day before Beckham won his 100th cap in Wednesday's 1-0 defeat by France in Paris. So if Beckham is in the squad for the friendly against his adopted country in May his international career will, presumably, continue.

Stand by for two months of speculation whether Beckham will be called up against the USA.

Capello said he was happy with Beckham's display in a wretched match against France, which was as exciting as a visit to the dentist.

Well, he would say that wouldn't he?

We should read nothing into such a statement — what else could the coach say?

He was mediocre like too many England players?

A memorable occasion for Beckham in Paris but the reality is the ex-Manchester United captain was vin ordinaire like most of his teammates.

Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Barry, Owen Hargreaves and Ashley Cole were the only England players to emerge with any real credit from the Stade de France.

Impressive as Capello's CV is, "miracle worker" is not included.

Capello coached Beckham at Real Madrid, so he knows the player well. The Italian is aware that playing against journeymen in Major League Soccer is not the ideal preparation for top-level international football.

Then there is Beckham's schedule. Beckham will take his total air miles to 65,000 since November by the time he returns to Los Angeles from Denver after tonight's MLS opener against the Colorado Rapids — the equivalent of going around the world almost three times.

Since November, the Beckham world tour has taken him from Los Angeles to Vancouver, Sydney, Wellington, London, Freetown, Sao Paulo, Honolulu, Seoul, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dallas, New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Denver and Los Angeles.

Football's equivalent of Phileas Fogg he may be, but no obvious and natural replacement for Beckham on the right side of midfield has emerged. Blackburn's David Bentley is Beckham's likely successor, but if Capello thought he was ready to become an England starter, the former Arsenal winger would have been chosen ahead of the centurion.

Capello can do without the inevitable Beckham hype and circus that accompanies the player, and the Galaxy superstar will have to be playing out of his skin to be selected again. Beckham is coming up on 33 and it is hard to see him being part of any England side at the 2010 World Cup finals age 35.

The Italian may want to close the Beckham book and move on.

There are other issues apart from Beckham for Capello to mull over.

David James is 37 but is probably, and worryingly, still the best goalkeeper available to England.

Steven Gerrard looked uncomfortable playing in a free role behind lone striker Wayne Rooney. Gerrard is a terrific all-around midfielder, but does not have the subtlety of a Francesco Totti or Ronaldinho to play that role.

The best player by a distance on view was Franck Ribery, the Bayern Munich forward whose pace, control and vision will surely make him one of Euro 2008's outstanding performers.

* * * * *

DAVID BECKHAM starts his first full season with Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday, earning 2 1/2 times the total his 17 teammates make between them. Beckham's salary is £3.25 million, with the rest paid £1,271,012.

But Beckham's massive salary is likely to be a contributory factor toward another season of frustration for the Galaxy.

Los Angeles finished fifth in the Western Conference last season — Beckham played only five matches during his injury-hit inaugural year — and missed the playoffs. MLS observers see little hope of significant improvement for the Galaxy because the league's salary cap means Los Angeles has little cash left after its three top earners — Beckham, Landon Donovan and Carlos Ruiz.

It still means the Galaxy are top heavy with high-earning forwards, leaving doubts about the rest of the team, notably in defense.

The Galaxy has a rookie goalkeeper in Steve Cronin, with too many other players low on quality because they are low on salary.

Beckham cannot carry the Galaxy to glory alone, and while his enormous earnings and status have made the franchise the most high profile in U.S. soccer, his mega-contract also means Los Angeles does not possess the consistency of the Houston Dynamo, who are going for their third consecutive MLS title.

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

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