Finding Becks' place in soccer history

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

All it took was an innocuous photograph, but the way the sports desks of Fleet Street exploded into life Saturday was a perfect example of how much David Beckham still matters in England.

With just minutes left before their deadline, the U.K.'s national newspapers received pictures of Beckham apparently "limping" from the field and then receiving "treatment" on his groin following the Los Angeles Galaxy's annual FanFest at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

Within seconds of the snapshots landing in London, Yahoo! Sports received a flurry of phone calls and messages from contacts in England, hungrily seeking details on the full extent of the "injury" that could put the 32-year-old midfielder's hopes of reaching 100 national team appearances in jeopardy.

The problem was that there was no injury. Beckham had left the field against the San Fernando Valley Quakes midway through the second half, as planned. Like several other players, he was then assisted with his stretching routine by a team trainer.

But an opportunistic photographer clearly saw it differently.

Cue mayhem back in London, where the "Will he?" or "Won't he?" saga surrounding Beckham's 100th cap is the hottest topic in town. It just goes to show the level of intrigue surrounding Beckham and England manager Fabio Capello ahead of Wednesday's friendly against France.

Only four men have reached 100 appearances for England previously and the issue surrounding the world's most famous player and his former coach at Real Madrid has been bubbling for months.

Beckham fully deserves the accolades that will come his way this week. He is not the best player to have ever taken the field for England, but no one has served the country with a greater sense of passion and duty.

With the exception of his mental meltdown during the 1998 World Cup, when he was sent off for lashing out at Argentina's Diego Simeone and blamed for England's exit, he continually came through in the clutch for the national side. Highlights have included the brilliant free kick against Greece to book passage to the 2002 World Cup and a nerve-racking penalty kick in the group stage of the tournament to exact revenge on Argentina.

He will always regret being unable to help England reach the final of a World Cup or European Championships, with penalty shootouts twice crushing the dreams of the team and a nation under the leadership of Sven Goran Eriksson. Yet Beckham retains a special place in English hearts that has not dimmed since he left Manchester United for Real Madrid and then the Galaxy.

Millions worldwide may remember the hairstyles, the advertising campaigns and the pop star wife, but the genuine soccer folk of England prefer to appreciate the unfalteringly loyal service he has given to the country. Even Capello himself was taken by surprise at the strength of pro-Beckham support he encountered at a meeting with key fan groups soon after he took over the job.

Realistically, after Beckham wins his 100th cap, few expect him to be kept in the England picture by Capello. But history tells us that to write Beckham off is nothing short of folly. Time and again, he has proven his ability to bounce back from adversity.

Even Capello himself has had his mind changed by the weight of Beckham's force of character and determination. That scene took place at Real Madrid, when Don Fabio angrily vowed not to play Beckham in the closing months of his contract after his Galaxy deal became public. But the coach eventually swallowed his pride, reinstated him and was rewarded with a league title.

With the whirlwind of attention engulfing the England issue, Capello has done well to manage the situation in a controlled fashion. By waiting until Beckham had proven his fitness before calling him up, Capello has actually done him a favor.

Assistant Franco Baldini flew out to watch the Galaxy's preseason friendly with FC Dallas last week and despite public sentiment, Capello would never have selected Beckham if he was not convinced he was in shape.

By taking that approach, it has added credibility to this week's call-up. Now, no one can suggest Beckham was only included as a token gesture.

Capello has sent out a clear message that players will be selected on merit – and only on merit. Whether Beckham has a future with the England national team that stretches past this summer is entirely up to him and the way he performs for the Galaxy.

And you sense he wouldn't want it any other way.