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Will Beckham bend it at London 2012?
It’s as if David Beckham is taking cues from a Hollywood director.
With the odds stacked against our hero and people already counting him out, he appears out of nowhere and, with one sudden move, reminds the audience why they keep coming back for more.
The movie format is the logical way to explain it, of course, what with the larger-than-life Beckham plying his trade just a curling free kick from Tinseltown.
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For months the debate has raged whether the high-profile superstar should be part of Team Great Britain in the upcoming Olympic Games. Sure, argues one side, why not?
The most famous soccer player in the world, known not only for his mastery of free kicks but also his movie-star looks, larger-than-life persona and celebrity wife must certainly be a part of the global spectacle that awaits in his home nation.
But then there are the detractors who point out — perhaps even correctly — that Beckham is well past his prime and other players are more deserving of a spot on the coveted 18-man roster that will represent England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (although for political reasons, the team will likely be comprised of mostly Englishmen). Never mind that the squad is only allowed a maximum of three players over the age of 23. (Beckham will be 37 when the games begin July 27.)
The drama has been building, and with 100 days until the games in London there is still no resolution.
Beckham has ardently been lobbying for a spot on Team Great Britain. But with the clock ticking before final selections for the team are made by July 6, Beckham is still under consideration. Coach Stuart Pearce has reduced his initial list to 80, and Beckham, Gareth Bale, Craig Bellamy and Joe Cole are among the players who made that cut. Pearce is expected to pare that list to 35 by June 8 before turning in his final roster by the deadline.
Beckham said he has not heard from Pearce.
"I’ve not spoken to (Pearce)," Beckham told FOXSports.com last week, with the Olympics only 107 days away. "There’s no need to speak to him yet. Obviously I’ll find out at some point whether I’m involved or not and what the team will be.
“It’s an exciting time for our country. To have the Olympic Games is special, particularly in that part of London.”
This is a strange situation for the man globally known as “Becks.” Nobody can ever be owed such a coveted spot, but Beckham can certainly make a case. He holds the record for most career appearances for England’s senior team by a field player with 115 to date — including more than 50 as captain. Throw in his role as a key dignitary when London was bidding to win the rights to host the Games in 2005, along with various other duties on behalf of the organizing committee, and it is evident that representing his nation is of utmost importance to the accomplished player.
"It's an exciting time for our country,” Beckham crowed. “To have the Olympic Games is special, particularly in that part of London."
Given that it has been nearly 50 years (1966 World Cup) since England has hosted a soccer tournament of this magnitude, shouldn’t its return to the world stage include one of its biggest stars of all-time?
But therein lies the problem. With Beckham's valued experience comes a far less valued trait — age.
There is no debate, Beckham is not in his prime, as he was when he played for European giants Manchester United (1991-2003) and Real Madrid (2003-07). But he’s no slouch. As a free agent this past winter, he was linked with Paris Saint-Germain and a few clubs in England’s Premier League before he eventually re-signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy until 2014. Yes, the primary reason he attracted so much attention is his stardom helps sell tickets and jerseys, but he still has plenty of skills on the pitch, even after having lost a step or two over the years.
Galaxy associate head coach Dave Sarachan argues that Beckham’s value goes beyond what he offers on the pitch, though — particularly with younger players like those he would be teamed with in London.
“I think more than experience, it’s perspective,” Sarachan says of Beckham. “ . . . There’s so much that he offers outside of the lines of the game.”
“When you see him, when he gets in the locker room, he prepares for training, and he gets on the field and begins training — he’s painting a picture for the young kids: This is how you prepare, this is how you compete each and every day.
"There are days that as a veteran it’s not 100 percent, and that’s OK, too. He paints a picture for the young kids.”
Beckham’s critics will argue intangibles are not enough, particularly since there is so much pressure on this team to win the gold on home soil.
And that’s when Beckham, Hollywood star that he is, will attempt to assume the hero role and rewrite the script.
Saturday night, 104 days before the London Games officially kick off, Beckham overcame back spasms that kept him out the previous week and scored a dramatic goal from 25 yards out in the 91st minute against the rival Portland Timbers. That he placed the goal in the upper 90 of the net only adds to the lore — and gives credence to the argument he would be more than a celebrity selection for Team Great Britain, that he can perform on the pitch when necessary.
“I haven’t done that for years,” Beckham said of the run-of-play goal, his first of the season. “It was a terrible first touch, but it put me in a shooting position. . . . As I hit it, I knew it was going in.”
The goal helped secure a much-needed win, as the defending MLS champs struggled to start the season, giving more ammunition to Beckham’s detractors.
There are still plenty of plot twists and turns to go before we find out for sure if Beckham will be part of the Olympic team. But regardless of the outcome, this Hollywood blockbuster is not to be missed.
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