Previous
Sevilla FC
Liverpool
3
3
FT
Game Details
Apoel Nicosia
Real Madrid
0
6
FT
Game Details
Borussia Dortmund
Tottenham Hotspur
1
2
FT
Game Details
Manchester City
Feyenoord Rotterdam
1
0
FT
Game Details
Columbus Crew SC
Toronto FC
0
0
ESPN3 LIVE HT
Leg 1
Game Details
Houston Dynamo
Seattle Sounders FC
3:00 AM UTC
Leg 1
Game Details
Napoli
Shakhtar Donetsk
3
0
FT
Game Details
AS Monaco
RB Leipzig
1
4
FT
Game Details
Spartak Moscow
NK Maribor
1
1
FT
Game Details
Besiktas
FC Porto
1
1
FT
Game Details
Next

McClaren can't admit the worth of Beckham

We could call him Steve McClaren's dirty little secret.

You know the type. One of those embarrassing personal problems that nag away at you until you are eventually forced to give in and face up to your demon. The only problem for England's beleaguered manager is that his blemish is a touch more obvious than most.

His name is David Beckham, the most famous footballer in the world and the man McClaren has been forced to turn to in a bid to rescue himself what all observers believe will be a humiliating sacking should England fail to beat lowly Estonia in Wednesday's Euro 2008 qualifier.

While his decision to drop Beckham in the first place was brave and the move to recall the in-form Real Madrid midfielder is equally bold, McClaren is clearly embarrassed by the fact that his first major decision as England coach has proved to be a mistake.

Given the chance to prove his own manager wrong in a 77-minute international comeback against Brazil last Friday, Beckham snatched his chance in typical fashion and proved he should never have been away from this ultimate stage in the first place.

McClaren could take some credit for this unlikely story, yet you just need to spend five minutes in the company of the ex-Middlesbrough manager to appreciate just how much this whole problem has consumed him. In fact, his determination to replace Beckham's name with the word as 'he' while offered grudging appreciation for his performance in the 1-1 draw against the five-time world champions was sad to behold.

'He didn't want his return to be the main focus, I didn't wanted it either and I think it has been key to our preparations,' said McClaren, as he managed to spill a few words about his 'problem'. 'He showed in training exactly why he should be a part of the England squad and it doesn't surprise me. I have seen him play week in week out from Real Madrid and he has been giving that kind of performance time and again.

'He gave us great balance on the right side of our midfield against Brazil. He is fitter and stronger than I've seen him for a long time and when you hear Real Madrid boss Fabio Capello saying he is in the best shape of his career, you have to listen.'

Critics of this sporting icon are rarely far away and there will be many who view his England return is little more than a boost to the 'Brand Beckham Inc' publicity machine he is purported to front. However, such claims have been rubbished as he has proved himself to be a sportsman with real character in the last few months.

When the managers of both Real Madrid and England decided they could do without a figure who has long divided public opinion, it would have been easy for Becks to take the easy route and prepare for a wealthy semi-retirement with Los Angels Galaxy this summer. Instead, he has defied those who doubted him, forced his way back into the plans of Capello and McClaren and even if his international return is brief, he must feel it was worth it for the reception he received from his Wembley public on Friday.

Beckham's name was cheered louder than any other before kick-off and his every touch sparked a rash of flashlights to light up the North London skyline. His delivery from set-plays was as immaculate as ever and when McClaren replaced him late on, the standing ovation he received may have been heard in Madrid.

'He is putting in extra work on the training ground at Real Madrid and it's paying dividends,' continued McClaren, looking increasingly agitated as the Beckham questions continued to flow. 'He takes adversity on the chin, bounces back and his performances merited coming into the team.

When you hear Real Madrid boss Fabio Capello saying he is in the best shape of his career, you have to listen.
Steve McClaren - through gritted teeth
'Many have questioned my decision to bring him back and there has been a great debate about it all week, but his performances have merited a place in the squad since the New Year. We got a good performance out of him against Brazil.'

McClaren's ability to create a PR disaster was exposed again last week as his determination to keep Beckham's return low key led to the cancellation of planned media events last Thursday. His pathetic attempts to keep his recalled midfielder under wraps were never going to work and if he can't handle the reality of working with the game's biggest stars, he really should get out of the kitchen he is frying in.

This coach is clearly struggling to handle the superstar in his midst, yet those of us at Wembley on Friday appreciated the positive impact the returning hero has on the sell-out crowd. For the first time in years, the feelgood factor was back for England.

Beckham may be a one-trick pony, but his party piece of delivering decisive balls into dangerous areas has brought Real Madrid to the brink of the Spanish title and he did the same for his country as a trademark cross set up skipper John Terry for what should have been a famous winning goal for England.

Yet with McClaren persistently dismissing questions about his future in the England squad when he makes his move to LA Galaxy next season, it seems Beckham's return to the international scene will be brief. He will help dig McClaren out of a hole in Tallinn on Wednesday before being discarded again and if that proves to be the case, the folly of the manager's twisted decision making will have been exposed.

You just had to listen to the tone of McClaren's voice as he reluctantly praised Beckham and then went on to enthusiastically promote the performances of favourite sons Frank, Stevie and Michael. In the eyes of the fans, Beckham was the star of the Wembley show and not the trio of Lampard, Gerrard and Owen, yet McClaren did his best to argue his point.

Ignoring the fact that Lampard was jeered by sections of the crowd as he left the Wembley pitch, the coach portrayed a different view and claimed the Chelsea midfielder's midfield partnership with Liverpool skipper Gerrard was flourishing. 'I can't explain why Frank got the reception he did,' he stated. 'I felt he answered a lot of questions as he did his job with great discipline against a top side.

'People doubt whether Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard can play together, but they proved they could on Friday night. They've only lost one game playing together in the midfield and the discipline and ability they showed gave us the platform to attack Brazil.'

McClaren's body language in front of the media is now akin to that of a rabbit caught in glaring scary headlights. He may have started out with the intention of developing solid relationships with the reporters who have buried many an England manager down the years, but this ambition lies in terminal tatters.

Maybe he should use the next few days to get a few tips of media relations from the man hailed as the king of spin himself. David Beckham is a useful guy to have around.


  • Any comments? Email the newsdesk