Byline: DES KELLY
THE ONLY way this experiment with David Beckham playing as a glorified 'quarterback' is going to work is if they actually send him out in helmet and shoulder pads.
At least an American football facemask, some body armour and maybe a quick steroid jab might improve his chances of offering a modicum of defensive resistance in the England midfield.
Even then you suspect Beckham would be more concerned with firing out what the Manchester United coaching staff used to scorn as his ' Hollywood passes' and smoothing any unsightly wrinkles from his satin tights than protecting his defensive linemen . . . I mean back four.
Because, talented though he is, Beckham has one obvious weakness. He tackles as well as his wife sings. So for Eriksson's 4-5-1 system to work properly, the entire team would have to be built, coached and constantly reminded that their main job is to protect him, just as a real NFL quarterback would be.
And that's just not going to work, is it?
Only a fool would consider him anything other than an outstanding footballer. He is blessed with a great right foot, one of the best in the game today, has few equals in a dead-ball situation and his long-range passing and crosses (mostly from the right) remain a potent threat. His strengths as a right- sided attacking midfielder are well worth celebrating.
But modern football does not allow teams the luxury of allowing specialised, nontackling players to parade around in front of their centre halves for very long.
The essential requirements for anyone operating in that role are to be able to break up opposition attacks, cover the space that opens up when team- mates push forward and to win the ball back time and time again.
The holding position is as much about destroying as creating and this often means sacrificing personal glory for the greater good and doing the thankless, dirty work. Now does that sound like Beckham to you?
He is no more suited to operating in the deep midfield role (or 'football quarterback' as it's now fancifully being called) than that 24-stone wall of blubber William 'The Fridge' Perry was to being a twinkle-toed wide receiver.
So why does Eriksson bow to his captain's vanity and deploy him in the one area where that weakness is most exposed?
I can remember the last time he tried to play the enforcer for England. It was against Ben Thatcher of Wales last October when Beckham vividly illustrated one of the golden rules of tackling: Do Not Go In Ribs First.
His challenge was so clumsy that he claimed it had been deliberate. He said it was designed to earn him a booking that meant he would miss a trip to Azerbaijan, which made it stupid and selfish. Either way he splintered a couple of bones and made a fool of himself.
Now this same individual is seriously talking about operatingas the rock for the international side. 'If one of the central defenders steps up, then I can fill in for them at centre half,' he said after the performance against Wales, apparently without tickling anyone's ribs.
Yet Sir Alex Ferguson thought so little of Beckham's defensive duties on one notorious occasion, he hit the England skipper in the face with a football boot.
Even Gary Neville, who knows Beckham better than most, seemed a little underwhelmed by the whole idea: 'I don't know whether the manager will keep him there in the long term, but it was worth a go,' he said.
Hopefully the experiment will extend only for a term that lasts until 7.45pm in Belfast tomorrow. If Eriksson is seriously scratching around for a Plan B after all these years, the playerled initiative is not it, whether Michael Owen is available or not.
Beckham always performs best on the right, supported by a swift, busy and perceptive full back like Neville on the overlap.
But if Eriksson truly agrees his captain is a central midfielder first and foremost, then he must have the nerve to drop either Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard and play him there on merit. …