PARIS – Ambition shouldn't be faulted, even with David Beckham.
At 35, with the best years of his illustrious career behind him, Beckham could be savoring well-earned retirement by now, attending fashion bashes with wife Victoria and doing the rounds of TV talkshows. With Major League Soccer closed down for the winter, he could be putting his valuable feet up like his Los Angeles Galaxy teammates and sitting courtside more often at the Staples Center, watching the L.A. Lakers do the hard work.
Bravo to him for wanting more than that. The perpetual flame of drive and desire in this old English lion puts players far younger than him to shame. For trying to squeeze the final drops out of the few years left to him as a player, Beckham should be applauded.
While MLS slumbers, Beckham hopes to get a few games for an English Premier League club, possibly Tottenham, or at least join one of them for training. Nothing permanent, just a short-term loan until the Galaxy comes off its break in March, to keep that famous body of his in shape, as he's always done. More importantly, to prove England manager Fabio Capello wrong again.
Play me, coach.
Capello undiplomatically called time on Beckham's England career last August. Too old, the Italian said. "He has no future with the international team," he declared.
Beckham isn't ready for last rites. He refuses to simply quit, to shuffle off when told. The word now from Beckham's camp is that Capello has had something of a change of heart and has indicated to Beckham that as long as he is fit, sharp and playing competitive football, he will still be considered for England.
Considered. Not picked, necessarily.
Still, that offers a glimmer of hope. And that's enough for Beckham. Although an England recall would seem unlikely, Beckham has forced a U-turn from Capello before.
Capello packed Beckham off to the doghouse after the player announced in January 2007 that he would be moving to Los Angeles, with the ambition, he claimed, of wanting to grow football in the land of the NFL, the NBA, baseball and NASCAR. Capello swore that Beckham would never again play for Madrid. Beckham's response — as he wants to do again now — was to work doubly hard in training.
Capello ate his humble pie with grace. "The truth is with him we were all wrong," he said. Back came Beckham and back came Madrid's victorious ways. For the first and only time in Beckham's four years with the team, it won the Spanish league title.
That Beckham is seeking part-time work elsewhere angers some Galaxy fans. Venting on Internet forums, they call him disloyal and selfish and worry that he could injure himself, as he did last March while playing in the offseason for AC Milan.
The Galaxy pays Beckham handsomely. But it got just 466 minutes of football and two goals out of him last season, so, yes, perhaps it can argue that he should be saving his energies for the 2011 MLS season, the last of his five-year contract.
But it is also true that if MLS was a stronger league then Beckham wouldn't need to scamper off to Europe whenever he can to catch Capello's eye.
Capello is not alone in thinking that the standards of play and physical intensity in MLS pale in comparison to Premier League football. It is not Beckham's fault that he has no hope of impressing the England coach with his MLS performances alone. MLS barely registers in Europe — as shown by the fact that the possibility of Beckham playing again in England, albeit briefly, is far bigger news here than anything he's achieved on the field with the Galaxy.
If a deal can be done with Tottenham, Beckham's not going to waltz into Harry Redknapp's starting 11. But he could be a useful substitute. With his pinpoint crosses, Beckham could offer scoring opportunities for tall striker Peter Crouch and use his wealth of experience to help calm and settle Redknapp's younger players, help them keep the ball and slow down the tempo of games. It would be, at best, a bit part and unlikely to put him at much risk of injury, so he could return to the Galaxy fit and invigorated by his English sojourn.
Capello, one expects, would make an effort to come and see Beckham play and afterward make all the right noises about how pleased he is to see such dedication. But the truth is that England's future no longer lies with Beckham.
Still, at least he would have given it his best shot. You can't ask more of a player than wanting to play.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org