As happens without fail every four years, World Cup talk is dominating English football.
For the players in and around manager Fabio Capello’s national squad, the focus is on making the plane for South Africa next summer.
For those lucky enough to be all but guaranteed their seat—and there are a few—the focus is on launching a bid to win the big prize on the horizon.
For the Football Association, the situation is slightly different.
While the directors of English football’s governing body are still devoting considerable resources to give Capello everything he needs to launch a strong challenge next summer, they are also focusing equal attention on launching a successful World Cup bid of their own.
Instead of 2010, the FA is looking to 2018, when they hope they can bring the World Cup back to England for the first time in 52 years.
When England hosted that last tournament, in 1966, Bobby Moore famously lead the Three Lions to their solitary triumph in the game’s biggest tournament.
And hopes are high that, after so many years of hurt, a return of the final to a new Wembley might yield the same famous old result.
That long wait to host, as well as England’s self-proclaimed status as the "home of football" (something that has been deliberately underplayed during campaigning so as not to offend) would seem to give the bid more weight than that of its rivals.
Couple that with the fact it has an unrivalled collection of world-class stadiums and infrastructure to call upon, and, on paper at least, any bid from the sceptred isle would appear to be a winner.
But in many respects, England and the wider United Kingdom is not currently in the best of health. While many other European and world nations are slowly steering their ship clear of recession, the United Kingdom is still waging a seemingly losing battle with high unemployment and floundering industry.
And while London will host the Olympics in 2012, disputes and debates about how the event will be financed has raised awkward questions in many minds.
Equally, the continued fall-out of the invasion of Iraq means the United Kingdom does not enjoy political popularity with many on the world stage.
But, unlike many other prominent sporting or cultural events, football tends to exist in its own world, with the 25 voters on FIFA’s panel concerned with the politics of football above and beyond anything else.
Nevertheless, the England 2018 bid has so far managed to make a real hash of things.
Prominent FIFA voter Jack Warner—who has the power to significantly influence who is awarded the honour—has criticized the bid on numerous occasions, and the common consensus is that England’s pitch—lacking the impressive spokesman that many successful bids have had (for example Germany with Franz Beckanbauer for 2006)—has so far failed to impress, especially against stiff competition from the likes of Spain & Portugal.
"My colleagues are saying very quietly that the guys [from England] who are coming to them are lightweight. This is the type of thing that loses you a bid,” Warner said last month.
"You have to look at what others are doing and also be creative yourself, these things are not happening."
With the bid perceived to be handicapped by the lack of heavyweights and hanging by a thread, this week the bid team turned to desperate measures.
Six members of the bid’s board were demoted, including National Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe, while former FA chief Geoff Thompson—who is on FIFA’s executive panel—has been drafted in to improve the situation.
Lord Triesman, the current FA chief in overall charge of the bid, tried to put a positive spin on the move:
"In our view, these changes reflect a positive development and send a loud message of absolute determination to bring the World Cup tournament to England,” he said.
"We've got to a point where the England 2018 campaign requires focus, determination and where everybody involved has a specific purpose to help us win the bid."
This week, the bid also appointed former Chelsea director of communications Simon Greenberg to oversee their positive presentation in the media. But hopes of success, ironically, now seem to lie on the shoulders of one very prominent player.
He might not have played in English domestic football for over six years, but the current LA Galaxy and AC Milan midfielder is the man who now carries the hopes of a nation.
“I’ll do whatever it takes, without a doubt,” Beckham said.
“If I can fly to different countries and help us have a chance of winning, then I’ll do that. It would be special to win the World Cup and then host it, but there is a long way to go before that.
"It’s everyone’s dream to do that, but there is a lot of hard work for both.”
The 34-year-old will spend £50,000 of his own money to part-finance the chartering of a private jet to locations from Kuala Lumpur and Cape Town to woo the FIFA voters. The England 2018 team is hoping he will be exactly the heavy hitter Warner et al believes they have lacked.
"He's a phenomenal asset," admitted Lord Triesman.
“There are certainly a number of people who they (FIFA) want to meet and the person whom I suspect most want to meet is David.
"We want him there the maximum amount of time, we want him to be safe when he's there and to do as much with us as we can get him to do. Thank goodness he's totally up for it."
Yet Beckham’s reputation in the media and with the England squad has rarely been rosy.
From his sending off in the World Cup against Argentina in 1998 to his unceremonious removal from the squad by Steve McClaren, the low points have outweighed the highlights during his 113 caps.
Even now, his position in the national squad is the source of much debate.
Much was made last week when LA Galaxy’s successful progression to MLS’s Western Conference final forced Beckham to withdraw from the England squad against Brazil, thus meaning England would have to reach the World Cup final next summer (and Beckham play a part in every game) for him to equal Peter Shilton’s national record of 125 caps.
Even more was made, much of it in outrage, when Beckham equaled Bobby Moore’s outfield record of 108 caps back in February. Few believed Beckham deserved to equal the incomparable Moore, regarded as England’s greatest ever captain.
But while Bobby Moore may have won the World Cup, David Beckham might yet bring the whole tournament to England.
It won’t be a single-handed triumph, but many close to the bid now accept he will play a massive role in any success.
And if the bid is eventually successful, perhaps he deserves all the caps he eventually collects.
After all, such an achievement will surely make him the most significant single player in the country’s history.
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