The Insider reflects on David Beckham's World Cup dream being ended by a ruptured Achilles.
Last Updated: 15/03/10 2:48pm
It is unlikely David Beckham's career will be defined by a snapping gesture made to the AC Milan bench, but as tears welled on Sunday night it was hard not to recall Gary Lineker's iconic signal to Sir Bobby Robson to keep an eye on Paul Gascoigne after he ruled himself out of a World Cup final that never was for England in 1990.
Hindsight affords us the sad truth that for Gazza it was the beginning of the end. For Beckham it is likely to be just the end.
As Beckham departed the San Siro on a stretcher in tears mouthing "it's broken, it's broken" he was referring not to a ruptured Achilles tendon, but his dream of appearing in a fourth World Cup finals.
It was a dream that consumed him these past few years as he swapped Los Angeles for Milan in the pursuit of a Hollywood ending.
Throughout his career Beckham has demonstrated a Lazarus-like capacity to beat circumstance and sceptics but with Milan's medical team having already confirmed he has snapped the tendon in his left leg, with a likely five-month rehabilitation period required, there are to be no further miracles for England's renaissance man.
To his detractors, and there are many that have already picked at a carcass still twitching in this morning's leaders, the sight of an England squad man's injury occupying the front pages will nauseate.
To them Brand Beckham is less a celebration of football prowess than it is celebrity; a prime example of where the phenomenon of 'fame beats talent' has permeated sport as it has society.
To the non-believer Beckham is football's Princess Diana, a figure who has always fascinated the masses and divided the bourgeois. What the curmudgeon misses, though, in pointing out that he was hardly a banker to make Fabio Capello's 23-man squad in any case, is that England's 'build 'em up, knock 'em down' obsession is just as nauseating.
Only those with a heart of stone would not elicit some kind of sympathy for a man who in 115 appearances for his country has always bristled with pride and patriotism, often poignancy, since making his England bow in 1996 against Moldova. For sure some of his antics were ill-advised, lest we forget Diego Simeone, but surely melodrama, villainy and burning effigies are just as much a part of football's rich tapestry as last minute free-kicks.
At 34, Beckham was never going to start for England in South Africa but history suggests he could have played his part. Icons are not made from hoisting one's knackers onto a 20-foot Armani billboard alone.
The early days of his career were characterised by petulance alongside brilliance but his latest bid to make a fourth World Cup was honest, driven and free of ego. Beckham has long-since accepted he is now, like the rest of England's squad, a bit-part player in Wayne's World.
His decision to leave Real Madrid for an American adventure was ill-judged and that he was ostracised during Steven McClaren's umbrella years was perceived to be his comeuppance for chasing the dollar. Lesser players would have kicked back in the LA sun, rested aching joints that had been battered and bruised in an 18-year career and settled for a life not dissimilar to Entourage.
But Beckham's heart, even over Manchester United, has always belonged to England.
Moving to Milan in Galaxy's close-season has necessary to convince Capello he can still deliver on the highest stage and while that he lost out financially does not bring a tear to the eye, that he was prepared to be separated from his wife and three kids says much of his desire to wear Three Lions across his chest again.
It would be cruel to say Beckham, who turns 35 in May, was an ideal fit for Milan's Dad's Army and instead better to focus on that he was welcomed back to one of the world's most prestigious clubs for a second time this season.
His return to Old Trafford earlier this month was an emotional affair and while he was reduced to a cameo appearance off the substitutes' bench, he still did enough to suggest he could have fulfilled a similar mandate in the summer.
England's alternative options on the right-hand side of midfield are plentiful, with Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott, James Milner, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Young all younger, faster and just as hungry to make their mark on the international arena.
Many will point out that, while Beckham's injury is unfortunate, it has opened the door for the next generation; I'd point out that Beckham put in more decent crosses in 25 minutes against United than Walcott and Wright-Phillips have managed between them all season.
Lennon, who looked a definite starter before picking up a serious injury of his own, is said to be 'some way off' a return to Tottenham's first team and, while Milner's infectious enthusiasm and versatility will secure him a spot, Young is not firing as he has in recent seasons and is yet to come close to convincing Capello of his credentials.
Wayne Rooney's new-found love of scoring with his head has only materialised because of the quality of his United team-mates' deliveries and of the aforementioned, only Beckham is currently capable of finding him on a regular basis.
Beckham has already said he has every intention of continuing his playing career but given the seriousness of the injury, doubts will be raised as to whether LA Galaxy and the MLS will provide enough motivation to get him off the treatment table and back onto the pitch.
His return to Old Trafford was supposed to be a swansong to his boyhood club, now it appears to have been his parting farewell to English football period.