Becks omission was a PR masterstroke

“What do you mean David Beckham’s not playing?”

It seems like dad had waited until the last possible minute – namely, the Tube ride to Wembley – to break the news to his (roughly) 10-year-old son that the reason they were here – to see Goldenballs reach his century – had been given the kybosh.

That’s a bit mean, I thought, he could have told him earlier. Then I realised that dad may merely have adopted the approach of the FA and their new manager.

Talk all you like about Fabio Capello’s first game in charge, a new dawn, etc, but the bottom line is this: were it not for the prospect of Beckham winning his 100th cap, there's no way a friendly against Switzerland in February, prior to a tournament England haven’t qualified for, would have been a sell-out.

Yet it was only the day before Saturday evening’s squad announcement that rumours surfaced of the former skipper’s omission. Until then, media speculation suggested that even the arch-pragmatist Capello wouldn’t look this gift-horse of a PR opportunity in the mouth. Roll Beckham out for the last five minutes, standing ovation and all, then down to business. What harm could it do?

Why else would Becks have been training with Arsenal during the MLS off-season and declaring his fitness so publicly? It’s not like Landon Donovan has been training with Bury to keep himself ticking over.

If Beckham’s non-selection was based on a lack of match fitness, then Capello (and the FA?) knew months ago that he would play no part against Switzerland. Now, I’m not suggesting that they conspired to have us believe until the last possible moment that Beckham would, indeed, have his cameo and reach his milestone to keep ticket sales and attendance up, but it’s a helluva an idea.

Either way, what we were left with was an atmosphere akin to a 90,000 sell-out… to the opera. Which, as luck would have it, is where Fabio often likes to spend his evenings.

There was no getting away from the fact that while there was some intrigue as to how the latest ‘New England’ would line up and play, excitement levels were only a little above average for an England friendly. And we all know how exciting the average England friendly has been in recent years.

Polite applause when England scored and a half-empty stadium by the 80th minute laid bare the facts: England won’t be at Euro 2008 and their next competitive fixture is four more friendlies and seven months away.

To compound the mood of forced enthusiasm among the England fans, the Swiss contingent were bang up for it. This, after all, was a much more important game for them – their first warm-up for the Euros, and against mighty England at the home of football!

No wonder they were having such a good time. Noisy throughout and delirious when their team scored (or made it past the halfway line) – and that was just in the away section.

By the number of Swiss suits in hospitality, we can only assume the business shuttles from London City Airport to Geneva and Zurich were unusually quiet on Wednesday evening. Perhaps they’d been given tickets by their English colleagues in the City who thought better of it when they realised Beckham wouldn’t be playing.

If he hadn’t had to pay for his tickets, maybe dad would have given his 10-year-old the same option.

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