It’s been 14 years since David Beckham made his England debut.
115 caps, a high-profile marriage, infidelity scandals, and countless pages of media coverage later, the question still remains: Is David Beckham as good as people think he is?
As you have probably gathered from the title of this article, this isn’t your standard sycophantic worship of this England ‘legend’.
I for one am tired of the circus that has surrounded Mr Beckham for the past decade. Every major tournament he has played in has become a farce, where the rest of the team has had to wallow in his giant shadow. This, of course, isn’t Beckham’s fault. If not for the Media (and I point to the tabloids in particular), I believe the Beckham saga would’ve ended a long time ago, with him having retired from international football as a decent, but not great, player. As it is, the circus rumbles on; into another tournament, and another chance for this national treasure to ‘shine’ on the world stage.
Whilst on the subject of major tournaments (and it is an important subject, seeing as Mr Beckham will soon have featured in more World Cups that any other player in England’s history), let’s take a look back at some of David’s highlights:
World Cup 1998: Beckham lashes out at Diego Simeone during a Second Round match against Argentina. He is sent off, and 10-men England eventually go out of the competition during a penalty shootout.
Word Cup 2002: During a Quarter-Final match against Brazil, Beckham pulls out of a challenge during a Brazil attack, and they go on to score. England lose the game 2-1, but all the criticism falls at the feet of David Seaman for his mistake from a Ronaldinho free kick.
Euro 2004: Beckham misses 2 crucial penalties: one against France in the group stages, and one in the shootout vs Portugal in the Quarter Finals.
I have focussed on the negatives here, yes, but I have done so because, with another World Cup approaching, pundits, and journalists alike are deciding once more to praise Beckham for his grand performances on the big stage. The above simply demonstrates that there is a side to Beckham’s career that is simply brushed to one side when looking back over his career as an England player. That ugly word: failure.
Let’s face it: The Eriksson era was a huge letdown. Over and over again, it was explained to us that this was the most talented group of players the country had ever seen. If that was the case, and it may well be; three Quarter-Finals isn’t enough. With Eriksson at the helm, and with Beckham as his Captain, England simply disappointed, and failed to live up to their hype. And there was no-one more disappointing or hyped-up than Beckham.
After France 1998, Beckham was subjected to hate campaigns, both from football fans, and the media. The abuse he took was absolutely unacceptable, and it showed a huge amount of character for him to carry on playing.
At some point between France ’98 and the 2002 World Cup, however, things changed dramatically for Beckham. The Sun newspaper, guilty of abusing Beckham itself in the aftermath of the Argentina game, decided to completely change their opinion of the man.
(In The Sun’s eyes) Beckham went from being Public Enemy #1, to a national hero, and The Sun’s adulation came to a climax in 2002, when they printed a photograph of Beckham’s injured right foot for the public to kiss, and pray he would be fit for the World Cup. Beckham wasn’t fit in time; but he played anyway, and so began the period of English football that irks me so much: David Beckham played for England, whether or not he was fit, in form, or playing for his club. Never before have I seen anything like this in International football, and I doubt I will again.
People will no doubt argue that Beckham possesses 2 lethal weapons capable of destroying any team: his crossing ability, and his free-kicks
Before David Beckham, taking a corner was not an art-form; it was simply a part of a game of football. Chris Waddle, Ryan Giggs, Darren Anderton, in fact any winger worth their salt, could put in a decent corner that could provide a goal. This is because corner-taking relies on more than one person. Football is not a static game. Without players attacking the ball during corners, the offensive team would rely on the ball simply bouncing onto their heads and sailing into the net. Therefore, the movement of the players in the box is just as important as the corner-taker himself.
During Beckham’s 115 caps for England, he crossed for the following people: Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, and John Terry; some of the best headers of the ball ever to play for England. In addition to these aerial threats, there were the likes of Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and Andy Cole, natural goalmouth-predators, ready to convert any knockdowns. Had Beckham played with team-mates of lesser talent, I think he would have far less assists to his name.
I’m not criticising Beckham’s ability to put a decent cross into the penalty-box. He is as good as anyone at doing it; but during his England career, it became a case of ‘Ignore the goal-scorer; praise the provider’.
Now onto Beckham’s Free-Kick taking: something he has become celebrated for. Would it come as a surprise if I told you that, during his 115 games for England, Beckham has scored only 6 free kicks? And seeing as one of those was intended as a cross for Michael Owen, it really comes to 5. Bearing in mind that Beckham often took numerous shots at goal from free-kicks per game (in his legendary game vs Greece, he’d already missed 5 before converting), the stats are quite startling. If he only took one free kick shot per game, that means he scored once in every 23 attempts. In reality, it’s more like one in 60 conversions. Hardly worthy of a the tag ‘set-piece genius’, is it?
Whilst playing for England, particularly after being given the captaincy, Beckham utterly monopolised the free-kick taking. Despite having Gerrard and Lampard, both prolific free-kick scorers for their clubs, waiting in the wings, there was never any discussion, never any doubt about who would take the set-pieces.
It saddens me that Beckham will soon have as many England caps as Glenn Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne, and Matt Le Tissier put together (the latter is probably the greatest overlooked talent of all), and will almost certainly add to his tally during this year’s World Cup.
Maybe in time, people will forget all the hype and nonsense that surrounded Beckham, and look at his stats in the way I have here. Until that day, I’m afraid, the Beckham myth continues, full steam ahead.