David Beckham looks set to miss out on the 2010 World Cup after tearing his Achilles tendon playing in A.C. Milan's 1-0 win over Chievo in Serie A today.
The England international pulled up in the 87th minute at San Siro today and hobbled off, claiming he heard his tendon snap and felt his calf muscles spasm. He was carried off on a stretcher, with the nightmare of missing the World Cup unfolding before his eyes.
Recovery from an Achilles rupture to being able to run is from 6-8 weeks following the operation Beckham will have tomorrow, but the proximity of the finals in under three months means a call-up of an unfit Beckham for the World Cup is now extremely unlikely. The most probable scenario is of Beckham missing the World Cup but making a return to MLS later this season.
The will-he, won't-he saga of Beckham's once unlikely journey to a fourth finals had looked set to end happily with a place in Fabio Capello's final squad, but his road to South Africa now seems to have finally run out of gas. His attempt to break Peter Shilton's England appearances record also looks to have bitten the dust, ten games short. Perhaps the most celebrity of England footballers has even played his last game for the Three Lions.
Becks' World Cup debut age 23 in France '98 was a colourful one - after initially having been dropped in favour of Teddy Sheringham, the young Manchester United star played a leading role in England's campaign, supplying the pass for Michael Owen's wonder goal against Argentina before getting himself sent off for retaliating against Diego Simeone. Beckham's expulsion forced England into a rearguard action for the rest of the second-round clash, lost eventually on penalties and coach Glenn Hoddle blamed him afterwards for the defeat.
Four years later and Beckham, recovered from the tsunami of tabloid opprobrium following France '98, arrived in Japan a soccer idol, especially in the Far East. But a broken metatarsal shortly before the finals meant the England captain was not in peak condition. He got his revenge on Argentina with a winning penalty, but Brazil's silky skills got the better of a prosaic and unimaginative England in the quarter-finals.
Beckham scored the winner in the second round of Germany 2006, a set piece against Ecuador, but his third World Cup finals ended again at the last eight stage, as Portugal beat another solid but uninspiring Three Lions team forged by Sven-Goran Eriksson, this time on spot-kicks. Tearfully resigning as captain, it looked like the World Cup had seen the last of Becks as he jetted off for the sunny climbs of Los Angeles and Major League Soccer.
Steve McClaren's first act as England manager was to telephone him to say farewell but before long McClaren's obvious frailty in the job saw Beckham back from the dead in the national team fold. Now shorn of what little speed he once had, Beckham concentrated on his dead ball delivery and arching crosses, providing a unique attacking option from the right wing.
Becks' prowess as an impact substitute with his penetrative deliveries ensured continuous call-ups under Capello, his former coach at Real Madrid and at the age of 34 looked set to have a final World Cup swansong, if not a starting role.
His tears as he left the San Siro field today were as intense as when he left the field against Portugal, both times believing he had played his last World Cup game. This time, it looks like he has.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile