LONDON, March 16 – David Beckham's ruptured Achilles may mean the 'end of the world' for him but it is by no means the end of England's dreams of World Cup triumph in South Africa later this year.When Beckham was at Manchester United and at the peak of his football powers, Old Trafford great George Best delivered a damning assessment of the midfielder’s ability.
"He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn’t score many goals," the late Best said. "Apart from that he’s all right."
Best’s comments were widely dismissed as the words of an embittered former player yet they highlighted how the hype surrounding Beckham has often exceeded his deeds on the pitch.
No-one can dispute the 34-year-old Beckham’s efforts in trying to become the first England player to appear in four World Cups.
He joined Italian giants AC Milan on loan from MLS side LA Galaxy in a bid to maintain match fitness in the run-up to the June start of the tournament.
Indeed it was while playing for Milan on Sunday that Beckham suffered the injury that ended his hopes of playing in South Africa.
But it is not as if Beckham’s three previous appearances did much to end England’s wait for a second World Cup title, which has been going on since the late Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley back in 1966.
In 1998, Beckham was sent-off for a petulant kick at Diego Simeone during England’s quarter-final loss to Argentina, with many fans blaming his reckless act for the defeat.
Four years later there were those who highlighted the way he jumped out of a tackle in the build-up to a goal scored by Brazil as being a key moment in another England quarter-final loss, this time against a 10-man Brazil side.
The 2006 World Cup in Germany saw Beckham turn in some solid displays yet nowhere near the calibre of those produced by France’s Zinedine Zidane or Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro in inspiring their sides to World Cup glory.
For all that England manager Fabio Capello has spoken warmly about Beckham’s ability and positive influence on the rest of the squad, the former captain has largely been reduced to a substitute role during the Italian’s time in charge.
His free-kick ability remains intact but it is a long time since Beckham had a major influence upon a major match.
It may seem harsh on Beckham, but few sides have won Word Cups on the basis of an ageing (he will be 35 when the World Cup starts) dead ball specialist.
On the other hand, were England to lose star striker Wayne Rooney in the run-up, that would all but scupper their World Cup hopes.
Much of the publicity that surrounds Beckham is not of the player’s making.
But his global celebrity, which seems to be something his wife, the former pop star Victoria Adams, enjoys more than her husband, has frequently proved an unwanted distraction to England, notably at the 2006 World Cup where the antics of the WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends) of players captivated the press.
Beckham’s absence may also embolden his rivals for the right hand side midfield berth, with the likes of the much quicker Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips no longer having to look over their shoulder.
England have not won a World Cup with Beckham, a player who has given loyal service during a 115 cap career, 58 as captain, that has yielded 17 goals.
They may win one without him but, either way, the days when England’s fortunes were dependent upon Beckham have passed.