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The Beckham factor

Mar 10
Ubha By Ravi Ubha
Special to ESPN.com
(Archive)

The debate rages in England: Should David Beckham land a ticket to South Africa? If he does, he's sure to spend most of his time on the bench.

While England boss Fabio Capello will make the final call in May, here are a few reasons Beckham, who will be 35 when the World Cup begins, should -- and shouldn't -- make the trip.

Why he should go

David Beckham
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesBeckham lacks the speed of younger players but remains one of the best on set pieces.

1. It wouldn't be a World Cup without him

A World Cup without a still-active Beckham would be like a Super Bowl without a halftime show. Soccer aficionados know Beckham from his time at Manchester United, Preston, Real Madrid, A.C. Milan and the Los Angeles Galaxy, but more important, even the most casual sports fan is aware of him. He transcends the sport and is a veritable style icon, with wife Victoria Beckham adding a little ... well, she used to be a pop star. Simply, David Beckham continues to be the world's most famous soccer player.

Many will tune in to England's games hoping to catch a glimpse of Beckham, whether he starts or not. Not having Beckham around when England faces the U.S. in the Group C opener June 12 would seem especially strange, given his California ties. The hard-nosed Capello, however, is far from the nostalgic type.

2. He brings something different off the bench

Beckham isn't the fastest player around, never has been, and dribbling isn't his forte. So Tottenham's Aaron Lennon and Manchester City's Shaun Wright-Phillips, the right-sided midfielders destined for South Africa, have him beat. When it comes to delivering corners and free kicks, and putting dangerous balls in the box, though, few are better.

Three Lions teammates Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, as good as they are on dead balls, still can't match Becks.

If England battles Brazil in the semifinals and the game is tied 1-1 with 20 minutes remaining, Beckham would be a great, and unique, option off the bench. You can just picture him striking a wonderful ball to beanpole forward Peter Crouch, who can either head it for a shot on goal or knock it down for onrushing strike partner Wayne Rooney. Beckham won't slack defensively, either.

3. He has plenty of experience

You can't win big things with kids, or so the expression goes. Beckham knows the drill. He has been to three World Cups, scoring in each one, and is England's most capped outfield player with 115 appearances. He made his debut a whopping 14 years ago against Moldova and served as captain for six of those years. The media is sure to have a field day if Beckham is on the team, but that might not be a bad thing. Sending Beckham out for those news conferences can shield other players and take the pressure off. Heck, he's answered every question imaginable (mostly with grace, it should be pointed out).

Beckham also can mentor the younger players on the team, which could include Lennon, Wright-Phillips, Everton's Leighton Baines (after his solid performance against Egypt last week), Aston Villa's James Milner, Spurs' Jermain Defoe and West Ham's Carlton Cole. And no one wears the England shirt with more pride.

Why he shouldn't go

1. Cue the media circus

England's WAGs (wives and girlfriends) caused havoc at the 2006 World Cup, with then-boss Sven-Goran Eriksson seemingly oblivious. They partied into the wee hours, boozed it up and indulged in intense retail therapy. Eriksson allowed his troops to see their partners at will. Lampard and Rio Ferdinand, expected to be England's captain this summer following the John Terry debacle, later said the players were distracted. "I think we got caught up in the whole thing," Ferdinand said. "There was a big show around the whole England squad."

When it comes to WAGs, none is bigger than "Posh Spice." The media circus is sure to go into overdrive. Capello has warned the WAGs to stay away, allowing them to see their guys only sporadically during the tournament -- the day after a game. Good luck. The Sun reported last month that several WAGs booked rooms at a swanky six-star resort near England's training camp for June and July.

2. He has a spotty World Cup past

Beckham has indeed scored at three World Cups, but that's not to say he's sparkled at all three. Far from it. In his maiden appearance in 1998, Beckham infamously got sent off against Argentina in the second round for a petulant kick on enforcer Diego Simeone. (Yes, Simeone wildly overreacted.) England, after defending bravely in the second half and extra time, exited on penalties, and Beckham was predictably crucified back home.

Four years later, despite coming full circle by scoring against Argentina with Simeone on the field, a broken foot sustained a few months before the tourney limited his effectiveness, and Beckham drew more criticism for pulling out of a challenge in the quarterfinals that ultimately led to Brazil's winning goal (the David Seaman howler). In 2006, despite drawing praise for netting the winner in the second round against Ecuador while feeling the effects of dehydration, a World Cup once again ended in disappointment for Beckham when he limped off in the quarterfinals against Portugal thanks to an Achilles injury. England departed another major tournament on penalties.

3. He is old and has little left

When he doesn't have the ball, what good is Beckham? Lennon and Wright-Phillips, even Arsenal's Theo Walcott, serve as deterrents for opposing fullbacks who like to go forward. With those speedsters around, they have to be careful because of the space they'll open up on a potential counter attack. Beckham won't put fear into defenders in that respect.

Coming off a long season -- with the Galaxy and A.C. Milan on loan -- his legs won't exactly be fresh, no matter how much Beckham looks after his body.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.