Has Beckham said his final farewell to England supporters?
David Beckham's England career has taken many twists and turns, but the latest chapter may see him fall agonisingly short of a landmark century of caps.
Excluded from new manager Fabio Capello's first squad, the 32-year-old now faces arguably his toughest test - earning yet another recall to claim his 100th appearance.
If he succeeds, by persuading Capello he is fit to compete for a place, he would join an elite band including Sir Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore who have notched up 100-plus England appearances.
Beckham's critics argue he does not deserve to be held in such high esteem as those Three Lions legends - a dead-ball specialist marketed beyond his abilities.
But his fans point to his vital contributions to England's cause down the years, his pride in pulling on the shirt, his passion to succeed.
Hero, villain, icon, outcast, comeback kid - Beckham has been all of these and more in a rollercoaster international career.
The ride began in 1996 when Hoddle, in his first game as England boss, picked the 21-year-old to make his debut against Moldova in a World Cup qualifier.
He retained him for the remaining games in a successful qualifying campaign. But, having reached the 1998 World Cup in France, Hoddle was criticised for leaving Beckham out of the early matches.
Beckham has scored 17 goals for England
So began Beckham's relationship with adversity, but he thrived on it and was often at his best with a point to prove, as Capello and Steve McClaren discovered with Real Madrid and England, respectively.
However, the petulant flick at Argentina's Diego Simeone that saw Beckham sent off in 1998 threatened to end his England career. But despite the burning effigies and boos that followed, Beckham bounced back.
Two years later, with Hoddle and his successor Kevin Keegan departed, Beckham was stand-in coach Peter Taylor's surprise choice to fill the vacant post of captain.
Beckham had won over many of his off-field detractors and completed his transformation from tempestuous outcast to composed figurehead in the space of two years.
New coach Sven-Goran Eriksson would reap the rewards of his and Taylor's decision to promote the right winger as skipper the following year, when Beckham dragged England through to the 2002 World Cup finals.
England were braced for a tricky play-off against Ukraine after being outplayed by the fearless Greeks. The home side froze with nerves, but Beckham delivered a phenomenal performance capped by a game-saving free-kick.
His subsequent metatarsal injury months before the World Cup dominated England's preparations and threatened to ruin his hopes of reaching Japan and Korea.
Few of Beckham's free-kicks were as vital as the one against Greece
But Eriksson's unswerving, if often blinkered, loyalty to his skipper saw Beckham feature in the 2002 World Cup when desperately short of fitness.
Eriksson picked Beckham regardless of fitness or form, and at times that did little to endear the Swede to the English public.
Beckham may also be considered fortunate that the list of alternatives flattered to deceive when asked to cover.
Despite exacting his revenge on Argentina with the winning goal to send his nemesis home, he pulled out of a crucial tackle in the 2-1 exit to Brazil, which further emphasised his dwindling value to the squad.
His importance to England was brought into question at Euro 2004 when he missed two penalties - the second in the shoot-out eliminator to Portugal.
In October 2005, Beckham's red card against Austria made him the first England captain to be sent off and the first, and only, player to be sent off twice while playing for England.
But he captained England for the 50th time in a friendly against Argentina the following month.
More records were broken in Germany 2006 when Beckham scored from a free-kick against Ecuador, becoming the first English player to score in three World Cups - giving England a 1-0 victory and a place in the quarter-finals.
But injury ended his involvement in the subsequent loss to Portugal. And so it could be argued that his battles with injury and fitness impeded England at three major championships.
Beckham was selected for the 2002 World Cup when clearly injured, was carried through Euro 2004 and brought little to the 2006 World Cup campaign, save free-kicks and crosses.
A day after the loss, an emotional Beckham stepped down as England captain, saying he felt it right to pass on the armband under incoming manager McClaren.
But with his value increasingly limited to set-pieces, doubts were raised over whether he could hold down an England place at all, and McClaren signalled a clean break with Eriksson's regime by dropping him.
McClaren discarded Beckham from his first squad
Beckham demonstrated he is no quitter by forcing Capello to recall him at Real Madrid and helping them to win the Spanish title.
A popular figure at the Bernabeu, worth millions to the club in marketing terms, he could have stayed, or joined one of the reported 15 European clubs who wanted him.
But instead of continuing at the highest level and enhancing his chances of an England recall, he opted for a mega-money move to Hollywood with the LA Galaxy.
However, when England's Euro 2008 qualifying campaign began to unravel, McClaren was forced to backtrack and recall the man dubbed 'Goldenballs'.
A 100th cap was now within Beckham's grasp, but failure to qualify for the Euro finals saw McClaren sacked and Capello appointed in his place.
Beckham began training with Arsenal to prove his fitness to Capello. But he also made trips to Africa (for Unicef) and Brazil (to launch a football academy) in the week of the Italian's squad announcement.
As rewarding and well-intentioned as those trips may have been, it must have reminded Capello that Beckham was not currently in meaningful week-to-week action. And in fact hasn't been for months.
A final call-up for Beckham may have found favour with many England supporters, and would in many ways be thoroughly deserved.
But Capello is here to push England forward, not win popularity contests, and Beckham finds himself in the wilderness once more - for now at least.
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