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Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009

PREMIER REPORT

Beckham has earned shot at breaking Moore's mark


LONDON — Not for the first or last time David Beckham will dominate the sports pages over the coming week.

Christopher Davies

Beckham will equal Bobby Moore's 108-cap England record for an outfield player if he plays against Spain in Seville next Wednesday.

As Beckham is fit, playing well and scoring goals for AC Milan halfway through his loan period from the Los Angeles Galaxy, it seems a formality that the midfielder will not only equal Moore's record, but overtake the late England captain next month when England plays Slovakia.

Peter Shilton's all-time record of 125 caps seems safe, though.

There are some who believe it is bordering on treason that Beckham should win more caps than Moore, the only England captain to lift the World Cup. Beckham critics say too many caps have been won for brief appearances as a substitute — his last four caps were for a total of 28 minutes of football.

Most of all, Beckham is not in Moore's class, but then few are.

While Moore was a true great of world football even Beckham's staunchest supporters would argue he has not achieved that level. But you don't win 100-plus caps for England without being a very good player, and in the modern game substitutes can be as important as those who start matches.

A cap is awarded even if a player appears for a only few seconds at the end of a game. That how it is, but don't blame Beckham whose love for his country, whatever else, is on a par with Moore's patriotism.

True, Beckham is in the twilight of his career, but there is still no better right-sided midfielder than Goldenballs, no one whose delivery is as accurate, no one who is more likely to score a crucial last-minute goal with a 25-meter free kick.

I have always found Beckham pleasant, engaging company. He is proud but ego-free, you never see him falling out of bars drunk, and he is more likely to be at a fashion show than a disco.

Fabio Capello is not a man to hand out caps or compliments gratuitously, so if Beckham makes his 108th appearance for England in Spain, where he once played for Real Madrid, good luck to a guy who has kept sports writers in a job for the last 12 years.

* * * * *

AC MILAN wants David Beckham to sign a permanent contract and the England midfielder wants to stay with Milan after his two-month loan period ends on March 9.

The Los Angeles Galaxy have remained a Major League Soccer doormat team during Beckham's two years Stateside, they would save a couple of million dollars a year if he leaves, so why the problem?

The Galaxy fear a legal backlash from season ticket holders if they allow Beckham to stay with Milan on a permanent basis. Beckham has instructed his legal team to open talks with the Galaxy about joining Milan rather than returning to Los Angeles in March, but in probably the most litigious country on the planet there are concerns of accusations of selling season tickets under false pretenses.

The franchise have sold 2009 MLS season tickets, which cost between £315 to £2,250, on the basis that Beckham would once again be with the team. Bruce Arena, the Galaxy coach, has repeatedly said he expects Beckham back by March 9, and Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG which owns the Galaxy, promised concerned season ticket holders that the England international would return.

Leiweke is probably the most powerful man in the MLS and it is his decision that is final. If Leiweke says that Beckham stays, then Beckham stays.

He said last week: "Beckham told me he is coming back. End of story. In fact there is no story."

We'll see.

* * * * *

FRANK LAMPARD and his England teammates could be forgiven if they give Xabi Alonso a wide berth when they play Spain on Wednesday.

The red card shown to the Chelsea midfielder at Anfield last Sunday was the fifth sending off this season involving Liverpool's Spanish international.

Going into Saturday's game against Portsmouth, six opponents had been dismissed during games against the Reds and, incredibly, five have been for incidents involving Alonso.

The odd one out was Emmanuel Adebayor when the Arsenal striker clashed with Ivaro Arbeloa.

The first Alsono dismissal saw Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic, who was sent off in the last minute of Liverpool's 2-1 victory last September.

Then Everton's Tim Cahill was shown the red card by Mike Riley, the referee who sent off Lampard at Anfield.

Next to walk was Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta when Pete Walton showed the Argentine red after tussling with Alonso.

Alan Wiley sent off Antonio Valencia of Wigan for a second cautionable offense — a foul on Alonso.

Last Sunday it was Lampard's turn for an early bath when he caught Alonso after the England international had won the ball cleanly — Chelsea's claim for unfair dismissal was upheld last Wednesday.

* * * * *

HE CLIMBED off the team coach punching the air. As he mounted the steps to the main door he stood Rocky-style fists in the air. That finished he continued toward the door, stopping again to salute the fans.

Lionel Messi?

Kaka?

Cristiano Ronaldo?

No it was Joe Kinnear, manager of Newcastle United, which is one point above the Premier League's relegation zone. There was no we-are-not-worthy hero worship from the Newcastle fans whose brief love affair with Kevin Keegan's successor ended when results became consistently poor, with Kinnear blaming the referee for each loss.

All this didn't deter Rocky Kinnear from one of the most embarrassing entrances since the Newcastle manager opened a news conference soon after being appointed when he used the F-word to the media 52 times.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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