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Football: COMMENT: Beckham not so bright to open his mouth - whatever the truth; Fraser Thomson on Beckham.

Byline: Fraser Thomson

The myopia that always tends to greet controversy in the England camp has descended like a fug over the team's preparations for an important World Cup Qualification match against Azerbaijan in Baku today.

David Beckham, when he deliberately felled Ben Thatcher, of Wales, last weekend, at once became both hero and villain.

Depending on your view Beckham is either every bit as shrewd as dozens of players before him, who have committed similar 'professional fouls' or is guilty of crass stupidity and treachery.

If the England captain is to be believed, he was merely trying to ensure that he would be available to play in the more significant games to come; wiping clear the threat of a more damaging booking in Baku.

Others accuse him of successfully ensuring he need not travel to one of the world's less glamorous football nations.

More still believe he was trying to deflect attention from yet more revelations about his private life.

A handful say he was merely showing the petulance that has been a part of his celebrity make-up since he was gifted to the game of football and the world at large. The latter appears least likely having again studied the footage.

Whatever his reasons for incurring the booking that ruled him out of today's game, the reaction has been swift and vehement.

Sir Geoff Hurst accuses him of letting down the nation. Michael Owen - an international and club team-mate refuses to condemn his actions. Sven-Goran Eriksson, his manager, refuses to criticise his captain despite being robbed of his services. Other observers suggest stripping him of the captaincy.

All blinkered views and all tending to overlook one vital point.

What if Beckham's challenge - now known not to be one made rashly, but with careful aforethought - had resulted in the early termination of his own career? Or, worse still, that of Ben Thatcher.

What if either player had been crippled? Would it not be tantamount to GBH on the part of Beckham? Reckless endangerment, to say the least.

Which then begs the question: Why come out and admit the wrongdoing?

Beckham proclaims people do not think he has the nous to deliberately earn a caution, thus negating his injury against Wales. But surely he should have had the intelligence - his own or that of one of his many PR advisors - to keep mum about it.

'Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt' said Samuel Johnson. It is unlikely young David has had cause to read such works but it would be advice well-heeded.

The possible reasons for his frankness are many although none engender respect for the England skipper.

Those same PR advisors may have been seeking to dispel the myth that Beckham is stupid.

But if the injury he has sustained rules him out of games for Real Madrid or the prestigious friendly against Spain in his home stadium The Bernabeu, then who will look a silly boy then?

If his guardians had been trying to deflect attention from his trouble personal life with wife Victoria, they were always doomed to failure. And if he was merely trying to be honest after the fact, such candour may yet come back to haunt him.

Sepp Blatter, President of Fifa, is likely to take a dim view of the whole sordid saga. While he is known to be less stringent in meting out punishments for player indiscretions than the Football Association, it is interesting that he has deferred commenting on it until he has consulted with the FA.

Fair Play is a basic tenet of both Fifa and the FA. Beckham's foul tackle and the reasons for committing it are nothing more than foul play and cheating.

Cheating the system, potentially cheating Thatcher - what if he was ruled out of Wales' game against Poland tonight? - and cheating the many fans who still - despite his errant ways on and off the field - worship him.

The celebrity status courted by and foisted upon Beckham is unjustified but it envelopes him like a protective blanket.

It may be why Eriksson, never far from the media limelight himself, blindly fails to recognise his captain's powers are waning. One spectacular goal against a hapless Welsh side should not wipe out the memory of Goldenballs' failings in Euro 2004.

If the Fifa mandarins decide to further punish Beckham he will have great cause to rue his actions both on the field at Old Trafford and in the press thereafter. It could be painful for our superstar.

The hurt would be felt by England too.

They will miss him today in Baku. If they miss him for longer, then he is back to being plain old Dumb David.

Fraser Thomson - Head of Sport, The Birmingham Post
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 13, 2004
Words:800
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