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Capello saved from difficult choice

March 15, 2010
Schaerlaeckens By Leander Schaerlaeckens
ESPN.com
(Archive)
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Sunday's uneasy landing of a left foot, leading to a freak torn Achilles tendon that will probably prevent David Beckham from playing in the World Cup, could be a relief to one person, although he'd never admit it.

"We have to wait for the results of the scan, but it looks like he is out of the World Cup," England coach Fabio Capello told The Associated Press. "David is a great professional and has worked very hard to be ready for the World Cup, so missing it will be a big blow."

To whom is it a big blow, Fabio? To David or to the team?

Chances are, Capello meant just to Beckham, since a rather awkward problem may have been solved for Capello.

Because what do you do when the biggest name the country you coach has produced in the past few decades -- warranted or otherwise -- announces his intentions to join your team for a last hoorah at the World Cup in the summer of 2010?

What do you say when that player will be 35, certifiably over the hill and, of far more significance, ill-fitted to slot into your team?

What to do when this talismanic player, whose many on-field letups have been pardoned for a few moments of glory, orients his entire career and contract negotiations to making your team? Beckham designed two unpopular offseason loans away from his club, Los Angeles Galaxy, to AC Milan, just because Capello said he'd like to see his players compete in the world's best leagues, even though Beckham had long since proved himself in those.

To top it all off, Beckham was one of the longest-serving captains England has ever had, and his commitment to the national team never withered, no matter how much grief he got from the press. He would have broken a national record for World Cups attended if Capello had included him. How can you possibly not call him up?

Therein lay the problem.

There were plenty of soccer reasons to leave him off the England roster.

Beckham's right wing is the spot at which England is deepest. Aaron Lennon is the favorite for the job. Next in the pecking order are Shaun Wright-Phillips and Theo Walcott. They all embody what Capello looks for on the right: speed and an ability to get by a man one-on-one. Those are tools Beckham doesn't possess -- and never did -- but are crucial in the ever-speedier international game.

In a bind, even utility man James Milner can slot in on the right. And considering the injuries to starting defenders Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole, and the platoon situation for the second striker slot next to Wayne Rooney, Capello will have to think hard about whom he bestows his limited bench spots on. Using one on Beckham, who was at best fourth on the depth chart and useful in no other way than to give the opposing defense a different look late in games, could never have been a preferable option for Capello.

The injury now shields Capello from the brutal British media scrutiny of both bringing Beckham to South Africa and then not playing him, one of which would inevitably be faulted, depending on the scenario.

It certainly is sad to see an elite player robbed of the chance to make one final push for a crowning achievement. In spite of all the glitz and glamour that surround his persona, Beckham is a devoted soccer player who never put his extracurriculars ahead of his day job. But, as has been pointed out, Aaron Lennon's slow recovery from a groin injury, which is said to be at least another two months away, is a much bigger problem.

England can take or leave David Beckham. And since his taking no longer seems an option, his leaving ought not to be mourned.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com.