England say farewell to super-servant Beckham

Fans barely noticed when Wes Brown and Paul Robinson turned their back on England this week but when Fabio Capello closed the door on David Beckham on Wednesday it truly was the end of an era.

London: Fans barely noticed when Wes Brown and Paul Robinson turned their back on England this week but when Fabio Capello closed the door on David Beckham on Wednesday it truly was the end of an era.

Capello`s announcement before Wednesday`s 2-1 victory over Hungary that the 35-year-old was "probably a bit too old" brought a low-key end to the international career of a player who right up until the day of the match was making it clear that he would never walk away.

"I`ve always said I won`t retire from playing for my country," Beckham said in Los Angeles on Wednesday, 14 years after winning the first of his 115 caps.

"If I never get picked again or whether I get picked again for one more game or 10 more games I`ll be available."

In an era when Premier League also-rans feel the need to say "no thanks" Beckham remains a glorious, shining example of why pulling on the shirt of one`s national team should remain the ultimate honour in the game.

For all his travails, for all his myriad off-pitch distractions and his unprecedented celebrity lifestyle, the bottom line is that he just loves the game.
From his well-documented days as a London youngster who realised his dream of playing for Manchester United through his remarkable career at Old Trafford, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and AC Milan, Beckham has never given anything but his all.

Behind it all was England, where Beckham experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows.

A generation of fans - those who last season roared to the rafters when he warmed up from the Wembley bench - will barely remember the 1998 World Cup when, after he was sent off for kicking Diego Simeone during the last-16 defeat by Argentina, his effigy was hung from lamp-posts and he was booed throughout the country.

He kept his dignity, kept doing what he did best - delivering crosses like nobody else in the game could and peppering the net with superlative free kicks and gradually won the fans over.

He was back in credit on the back of his inspired display in the 2002 World Cup qualifier against Greece at Old Trafford when his last-gasp free kick earned the draw that sent England to the finals.

His stock continued to rise after he converted a penalty to beat Argentina in the group stage but it was black mark time again soon after when, protecting an injury, he leapt out of a tackle against Brazil and seconds later England were picking the ball out of their net en route to another quarter-final exit.
Touchline Tears

His skied penalty in the quarter-final shootout defeat by Portugal in Euro 2004 was another painful moment, as were his touchline tears two years later when England lost to the same opposition at the same stage in the World Cup in Germany.

The next day Beckham relinquished the captaincy and his international career seemed over when new manager Steve McClaren left him out of his first squad, only to eventually recall him.

Capello, who had his own fallout with Beckham when in charge of Real Madrid before relenting, recognised his value on the pitch and around the squad and the older he got, the more popular he got.

Although increasingly peripheral to England`s plans, Beckham never complained, never went to the media staking a claim for a place, but took his place amongst the substitutes.

Yet when his name was announced by the PA it earned by far the loudest cheers. When he joined the fray young fans were delirious, his appearance making their day.

Injury ended his hopes of playing in this year`s World Cup but when Capello asked him to accompany the team in an advisory role he jumped at the chance, saying he would carry the kit bag if he felt it would help their prospects.

Again England fell short and, with an eye on the 2012 European championship, Capello decided Beckham had no role to play.

"I thank (David) very much," said the Italian, who said after the game he hoped Beckham would make a farewell appearance in England`s next friendly at Wembley - when a full house would be guaranteed.

Bureau Report

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