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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 July 2006, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Right time to go
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer in Gelsenkirchen

David Beckham
Beckham captained England for 58 of his 95 caps
David Beckham's abdication speech as England captain was tearful, powerful and emotional - but also totally correct.

It is right that Beckham steps down now to spare himself the indignity of being stripped of the role he has held with such pride.

This was the fate that would have surely awaited him had he tried to cling to office after another poor performance in a major tournament.

The 31-year-old midfielder has been a fine ambassador, a leader who had the respect of his team-mates for his achievements and ability.

But this was the time to go - and he chose his moment perfectly.

England must start planning for the next World Cup now, and Beckham would not have been the man to lead the side in South Africa in 2010.

And maybe not even in the European Championship in Austria and Switzerland in two years' time.

Beckham arrived at England's last media briefing in Baden Baden wearing a look of bitter disappointment and limping from the ankle injury he received in the quarter-final defeat against Portugal.

More significantly, he was clutching a prepared statement which suggested a pivotal moment in England's football history was about to take place.

So it proved.

Beckham fought to maintain his composure, struggling over his words and battling back tears as the magnitude of his decision hit home.

He maybe saw the writing on the wall as he sat, again in tears, in the dug-out after he limped away from the action on Gelsenkirchen on Saturday night.

David Beckham and Aaron Lennon
Beckham now faces a fight to keep his England place from Lennon

But he has saved new coach Steve McClaren from having to make one of the biggest decisions he would have faced after succeeding Sven-Goran Eriksson.

For that, Beckham deserves credit.

He now faces another fight, the fight to keep his place in a side under threat from emerging young talent such as Aaron Lennon.

Beckham's career as captain may have ended in under-achievement and more heartbreak in Germany, but he has had numerous glorious moments that should not be forgotten.

He will always be remembered for the last-minute free-kick against Greece that sent England to the 2002 World Cup in Japan as well as the penalty that defeated old enemy Argentina in Sapporo.

But, despite those highlights, he still failed to make an impact on the biggest international showpieces.

France '98 ended in the ignominy of a red card against Argentina, he was clearly unfit after a foot injury in Japan in 2002, was a jaded figure at Euro 2004, and has been part of a poor England campaign in Germany.

Just occasionally the old magic re-surfaced - his free-kick against Ecuador in Stuttgart was typical Beckham - but he has resembled a shadow of the driving, forceful figure of his youth.

Beckham's showbiz image brought its detractors - and Eriksson even appeared in awe of his captain's status.

But he has always been a fine ambassador for England, especially in Japan, where he coped with suffocating hero worship from hundreds of fans with good grace.

And no-one, even those who do not warm to Beckham, could deny how much the England captain's armband meant to him.

Eriksson's reign as coach ended after the penalty shoot-out defeat by Portugal.

Now Beckham's exit means the new broom can now sweep clean for England.

The Real Madrid star admitted he had "lived the dream" before leaving Sunday's news conference to spontaneous applause from the world's media.

The dream is now over for both Beckham and England as the new generation attempt to prove more successful than their predecessors.

SEE ALSO
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