David Beckham: Is Greatness Just a Number?

Rich AsquithContributor IFebruary 11, 2009

As David Beckham makes his 108th appearance for England, it's important to separate greatness as a player and the number of caps received. Some of the mythical names in the history of our game received far fewer caps than one would expect of players that are part of the fabric of our footballing tradition:

Sir Stanley Matthews - 54 caps (11 goals) (Earned his last cap at the age of 42 in 1957)
Stan Mortensen - 28 (26)
Brian Clough - 2 (0) (Amazingly scored 251 goals in 274 club appearances in 9 seasons)
Dixie Dean - 16 (18)
Jimmy Greaves - 57 (44)
Johnny Haynes - 56 (18) (Once described by Pele as the best passer of the ball he'd ever seen)
Nat Lofthouse - 33 (30)
Ian Wright - 33 (9)

The list goes on and on.

Ultimately fitness, form, and managerial opinion have a huge bearing on how many appearances a player makes. Jimmy Greaves was considered the finest goalscorer of his generation, and by many the greatest of all time, yet after suffering a leg injury during the 1966 World Cup group stages he lost his place to Geoff Hurst. 

With Greaves regaining fitness during the latter stages of the competition Hurst retained his place, highly controversial at the time, yet paving the way for history to be made.

Had the Russian linesman not made the call he did, the entire landscape of English football could be different and Sir Alf Ramsey could well be viewed as a pariah rather than a hero.

The debate over whether Beckham deserves his caps is as misguided, as it is foolish. If the player is considered by his peers, coaches, and managers as being in a position to contribute to the national side then it is his duty as an English player to deliver.

That there have been more gifted, complete footballers never to achieve the same number of caps for England is beyond doubt. Nor is the fact that it cannot be Beckham's fault. 

One thing is beyond doubt.  Despite all the trials and tribulations of a glorious career, despite the pop-star wife, despite the Hollywood lifestyle, despite the constant harping and criticism for all these things he's never let his country down.

Do we have a right to ask or expect any more?