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By ESPN Staff

Beckham left out of England squad

LONDON -- England may never again rely on David Beckham's bending free kicks.

Coach Steve McClaren on Friday left him off the squad that will face European champion Greece on Wednesday in an exhibition game.

The coach has not completely shut the door on one of soccer's most glamorous and popular players, but McClaren is trying to build a national team without the 31-year-old Real Madrid midfielder.

"I spoke to David last Monday and notified him of my decision and said that I was planning for the future, looking to change things, and David wasn't included," McClaren said.

"At the present moment I am looking to take this team in a different direction. It's a new beginning. It's a clean sheet of paper for everybody and that's why I decided not to pick David Beckham."

The game against Greece is at Old Trafford, where Beckham scored some of his greatest goals for Manchester United and England. It was against Greece at Old Trafford that Beckham curled in a last-minute goal in 2001, putting England in the 2002 World Cup.

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"Having spoken to Steve McClaren this week I can fully understand that a new manager should want to make his mark on the team and build toward the next World Cup," Beckham said in a statement. "I'm proud to have played for England for 10 years and my passion for representing my country remains as strong as ever."

England now must do without Beckham's free kicks and penalty kicks as well as his long passes of uncanny accuracy. It was Beckham's free kick in a 1-0 victory over Ecuador that got England through to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Germany.

"I have great respect for him, fantastic captain for England, a great player and still is a great player and he took the news very well," McClaren said. "Although he was disappointed. I got the reaction I wanted and the reaction was that he would continue to fight for his place and I will never close to the door."

Beckham limped out of England's quarterfinal against Portugal with ankle and Achilles' tendon injuries and sat tearfully on the side as his team was eliminated in a penalty-kick shootout after a 0-0 tie.

The next day he stepped down as England captain after 58 games, but said he wanted to keep playing for national team.

Beckham's critics insist he should have gone long ago. His show-biz lifestyle, his high-profile marriage to former Spice Girl Victoria Adams and the wealth he gained through nonsoccer endorsements also prompted suggestions he was no longer interested in the game.

His ability with his accurate right foot made him a name on the soccer field and even became a movie title, "Bend It Like Beckham." But his critics said it was his only skill.

A right wing, Beckham doesn't dribble past opponents. He rarely gets into close-range shooting positions and the only goals he scores from open play are long shots. Although he has the stamina to run for 90 minutes, he no longer has much pace. He is also a poor tackler who regularly gets into trouble with referees for petulant behavior.

It was his retaliatory kick at Diego Simeone that led to a red card against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup. England had to play for another 73 minutes with 10 players, eventually losing in a shootout.

While playing for Manchester United, Beckham was blamed for England's elimination and jeered by rival fans. But he bounced back and became a favorite again, appointed captain of the national team. He inspired England to a 5-1 victory over Germany in a World Cup qualifier in Munich and guaranteed a spot at the 2002 World Cup with his last-minute free kick against Greece.

But England didn't make it past the quarterfinals in South Korea and Japan, and Beckham was partly to blame again.

Having just recovered from a broken left foot, Beckham jumped out of a tackle against Brazil, and the move led to a tying goal. Brazil won 2-1 and went on to capture its fifth title while England went home.

His goals helped England reach the 2004 European Championship. But Beckham, by then a Real Madrid player, shot high and wide from the penalty spot in another shootout loss to host Portugal.

Under Eriksson, Beckham stayed as captain and helped the team reach the 2006 World Cup. But he angered FIFA president Sepp Blatter when he deliberately fouled an opponent to get himself suspended from a World Cup qualifying game against Azerbaijan. He knew at the time he would miss the game because of injury.

Beckham made 94 appearances for England -- he was captain for 58 -- and has long said he'd like to reach 100. Only now, it's a "new beginning."