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Beckham proving critics wrong

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Stoppage Time Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - David Beckham's name is once again being splashed all over newspapers in Europe. However, it has nothing to do with his wife Victoria or a ridiculous contract, it has to do with his play on the field.

He has been a big reason why Real Madrid is on the verge of clinching its first La Liga title since the 2002-03 season, and he has even given England fans a renewed hope in the national team.

This is a refreshing revelation for a player who has been more style than substance throughout his career, a player who is the most popular in the world due in large part to his activities off the pitch.

It was only one year ago that Beckham was busy guiding England to another disappointing finish in the World Cup. The skipper was so disheartened with his effort, (and rightfully so), that he relinquished the captain's armband and was not included in new manager Steve McClaren's team.

He coasted through the first half of the La Liga season on an underachieving Real Madrid side before signing his huge deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

This signing was viewed by many throughout Europe as a sign of surrender, that Beckham could no longer compete at the highest level of the sport. He quickly fell out of favor with Madrid boss Fabio Capello, who vowed that Beckham would never again set foot on the pitch for his team after signing his deal with the Galaxy.

At this point it looked as though Beckham's career was headed towards an unhappy ending. He would limp off to the States to finish out a career that was bursting with unfulfilled potential. There were discussions that Beckham would leave Madrid and join L.A. even earlier than expected, but a funny thing happened shortly after that, the rest of the world found out he could still play.

David Beckham
David Beckham's name is once again being splashed all over newspapers in Europe.
It took a rash of injuries and the urging of some of Beckham's Real Madrid teammates to make Capello rethink his earlier stance, but the 32-year-old British icon was put back into the starting lineup, and just like that, Madrid found itself climbing the standings.

With Beckham back in the lineup Madrid went on to win nine of 10 games before its draw with Real Zaragoza last Saturday, and now can claim the title with a win against Mallorca on Sunday.

It is no coincidence that Madrid's results improved when Beckham was brought back into the fold. Strikers Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robinho have been the beneficiaries of Beckham's dangerous crosses, and he has even showed an increased desire to defend, which is something that has always been a bit of a chore for him.

Beckham has brought an added dimension to Real Madrid's attack, and that is something that McClaren is banking on for England.

The Three Lions struggled in their EURO 2008 qualifying efforts early on, playing to 0-0 draws with Macedonia and Israel, and suffering a 2-0 defeat to Croatia. They showed a general lack of offensive punch, and McClaren was bearing the brunt of the criticism. With his job clearly on the line, he too decided to bring back Beckham, installing him in the team's lineup for a friendly against Brazil before England's EURO 2008 qualifier with Estonia.

Beckham did not disappoint, setting up the England's lone goal against Brazil in a 1-1 draw, and providing a pair of crosses that led to goals in the team's 3-0 win against Estonia last Wednesday.

Keeping in mind that it was Estonia and not a European heavyweight last week, Beckham's performance and the effort of the entire England team was a welcomed sight for British fans everywhere.

They played with an offensive flair that the team was previously lacking, and getting Beckham back with the team before important qualifiers with Israel and Russia in September will only help England's cause.

"Watching Beckham play for England you could see how happy he is at the moment," former Real Madrid coach Radomir Antic told BBC Sport. "He worked very hard for the team, constantly changed his position and delivered a lot of very dangerous crosses."

The question now is whether or not Beckham figures into the long-term plans of McClaren, who has yet to assure the former skipper of a place. Beckham will be involved with MLS in September, and according to England assistant Terry Venables, McClaren was wise not to guarantee Beckham anything.

"Some people were surprised Steve did not instantly guarantee David's place next season, but I thought that was wise," said Venables in his News of the World column. "The next few months represent a step into the unknown for the manager and player, and we have to assess what impact the traveling and the different demands of Major League Soccer will have on David."

If McClaren is smart, he will bring Beckham back across the pond in the fall because it gives England its best chance to win. Both Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney have battled injuries, leaving England with a scoring problem up top. Frank Lampard has also failed to play up to his standards in the midfield and Beckham's presence out wide would help to stretch the field and give lanky striker Peter Crouch a number of crosses to get his head on.

While some in England may be worried that Beckham's involvement in MLS will make him less effective come September, the rejuvenated midfielder has no such concerns.

"I'm sure L.A. Galaxy will do everything possible to help me to play for my country and I'll definitely be here," Beckham said on the national team's website. "I believe I can play for many, many years but we will have to wait and see. A lot of things change in football but I believe I can play for many, many years."

England fans do not need Beckham to play for many, many years, just enough to help them qualify for EURO 2008 and possibly make a good run in the competition.

If he can keep up his current form, that last request may not be out of the question. He will then move on to the United States for his next task, where he will not only try to revive another struggling team, the Galaxy, but the entire sport of soccer in the United States.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
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