Centurion Beckham determined to fight on for England

Last updated at 12:22 27 March 2008


I'll be back: Beckham syas his wave was not a final farewell

As David Beckham was

leaving the Stade de France,

he was asked if his wave to the England

fans at the end of the

game had been one of farewell.

His face

was a picture of indignation.

“No, it was

just a thank you to them,” he said, clearly

somewhat bemused as to why people

were immediately ready to retire him as

soon as his big night was over.

For even if his 100th appearance for

England was mediocre and anti-climactic

— a booking, defeat and a failure to

convert his single half-chance suggested

he must have left his usual melodramatic

scriptwriting team back in Hollywood

— he wasn't about to let us even toy

with the idea that his innings was over.

“I want to carry on,” he wanted everyone

to know. “I don't know where the

rumours have come from about me stopping.

It's still one hundred not out as far

as I am concerned.”

That seemed fair enough. He hadn't

been great but then who in a red shirt


At least, as on 99 other occasions

you could mention, he offered commitment

and zeal.

And when you recall

glumly the poverty of English attacking

on an evening when French keeper Gregory

Coupet was not forced to make a

single save of note, one early, teasing

whipped cross delivered by a golden

right boot was about as near to a highlight

that there was.

So while it may have been far from his

finest hour, at least the old trier did

enough in 62 minutes to merit the lumpin-

the-throat ovation he received from

not only the Eurostar day trippers but

also the otherwise monastic home crowd

when he was substituted.

“I never dreamed this day would happen,”

he marvelled.

Team-mates and opposition alike

wanted to pay tribute.

The England players

all signed a shirt for him, Gareth

Barry hailed him as a “legend” while

William Gallas, with whom Beckham

recently trained at Arsenal, led the

acclamation from Les Bleus.

“I've got to know him and I know it

means a lot to him so I just wanted to go

up to him at the end and say congratulations

because I think what he's done for

English football has been great,” said the

Gunners skipper.

“I hope for him he wins

many more [caps] — and I think he will.”

It was when Gallas outlined his own

ambition to reach the three-figure landmark

that it put the achievement in perspective.

“To win 100 caps for a big country, you

cannot know how difficult it is,” said a 30-

year-old who's slogged on the international

beat for years yet still needs

another 39 caps to make the ton.

Certainly, the signs from Capello

afterwards were that his old Real

Madrid soldier, with whom he was

conversing in Spanish in the

touchline last night, may get

the chance to go after Bobby

Moore's record for an England

outfield player of 108


“I only substituted him

because I already know

him very well and I

wanted to see other players.

He plays because he deserves

to play,” was the manager's

riposte to anyone thinking

Beckham had been selected

as a ceremonial one-off.

Scroll down for more

Beckham and Capello

Witless pressure: Capello

Yet, amid all the merited

accolades, watching Beckham

labouring so feverishly

to make something,

anything, happen for a side so devoid of

fluidity, creativity and pace felt a little


We'd been here before. Of course,

patience is needed — after all, even

Capello's Roma wasn't built in a day

either — but this seemed less like a

brave new world and more like

back to the future.

Beckham reckoned he was

most pleased with his fitness

considering that his US season

hasn't begun yet but the

suspicion wasn't allayed

here that, at 32, his

remarkable engine simply

can't ferry him up and

down the field as ceaselessly

and effectively as it

once did.

“I enjoyed the hour,”

he said. “The most important

thing for me was to prove

my fitness and I thought I

did that. I felt very fresh and

a lot better than I thought [I

would]. Playing under Fabio

Capello at Real Madrid, he knows what

I'm like as a player so I didn't have to

prove anything there but proving my fitness

was the biggest thing.”

He insisted that his partnership with

Wes Brown down the right flank as they

switched midfield and full-back roles

had worked quite well. But it only served

to keep Beckham pinned back more

than we've ever seen him before, hitting

hopeful long balls from deep, instead of

doing what he's best at, delivering

crosses from the danger areas in the

opposition's half.

The only benefit? At least the hapless

Brown could occasionally be kept out of

harm's way upfield.

The game's most symbolic moment

came when Beckham's failure to keep

pace with the splendid Franck Ribery,

the man who would have been just perfect

for Arsenal if Arsene Wenger had

ever fancied parting with serious

money, ended with him getting booked

— for the 16th time for England, incidentally

— for tugging the Bayern

Munich star's shirt.

The sight of a one-paced battler struggling

to derail a direct and speedy creator

somehow told the story of an

England team still crudely trying,

and failing, to catch up with Europe's


This was a French team without its old

and new wonder boys, Thierry Henry

and Karim Benzema, yet they still comfortably

had the most accomplished

players on view in the likes of Ribery,

Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda, a

bloke who can hardly buy a game at

Chelsea these days.

Neither of Capello's twin lines of

approach last night looked in the same

class, because whether you package

them in 4-2-3-1 or plain old 4-4-2, what difference

does it make when a supposedly

world-class player like Ashley Cole can't

deliver a single accurate cross or when

Michael Owen's most eye-catching contribution

in the dying moments is a

25-yard pass in midfield backwards and

straight into touch?

How Capello, for all his professed

admiration of England's fighting spirit,

must have despaired inwardly at seeing

such technical shortcomings. Amid this

dismal fare, chances are he'll keep turning

to someone he can trust.

Goldenboots must still really fancy

his chances.

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