David Beckham

It’s the last twenty minutes of England’s open World Cup qualifying match in Vienna and David James has had another goalkeeping moment to forget. The Austrians can sense weakness. A minor World Cup upset is looming and the English press are poised to write Sven’s obituary. It’s at key times like this that on-field leadership is called for. Captain, David Beckham, however, has become meshed in the webs of diffidence and anxiety which have increasingly discomforted him.

Three days later, Terry Butcher broaches the question that many online gossipers have been asking for some time, ‘How many great games has the captain had for his country?’ The phone in’s want the answers from the sports psychologists.

Setting The Standard…
In the famous 2001 World Cup qualifier against Greece, Beckham set a standard of leadership that has become the benchmark against which all his other performances are measured. As we remember, at Old Trafford, it was as if Beckham decided, personally, that England were going to the World Cup.

He filled the roles of three players; playmaker, leader, goal scorer. He drew on powers that enabled him to go beyond the ordinary; he demonstrated levels of will that informed us we were in the presence of a winner. He led England to Japan.

Ask The Sports Psychologists…
So, people ask the sports psychologists, why can’t Beckham reproduce this level of intensity and standard of leadership every time he wears the captain’s armband? Why can’t Beckham tap into the power and the passion that he demonstrated against Greece?

Like others before him, Beckham has become an exploitable brand, his image is bigger than himself. When the distinction between sportsman and marketable personality becomes blurred, it is easy to lose sight of who you are.

Without precise goals, it becomes difficult to take your game to new levels. Beckham may appreciate that if he plays in his club position, centre midfield, it is easier to lead by example, than if one is playing on the wing; a literal and metaphorical outsider. But he seems unwilling or unable to persuade the England manager of this view. And this may have lead to internal conflict, which in sports psychology parlance ‘undermines performance’.

Fallouts with Sir Alex Ferguson, lurid allegations of infidelity a threat to his marriage, settling into the world’s most famous and demanding team, have combined to weaken Beckham’s position.

The Sports Psychology Summary…
If he is to become the inspirational captain he sees himself as, then he needs to reflect upon a number of questions. He must consider the reasons why he wants to captain his country; what it means to him, who he is doing it for; asking what his team-mates and country expect of him; being clear about what he can deliver to them and setting himself some measurable captaincy goals. It’s time to refocus.

Eriksson’s mark of faith and belief in his signature player is not necessarily misplaced. If Beckham can put things right in his life and his career, then it is possible that his leadership at Old Trafford in 2001 will not be seen to be a fabulous one-off.

Contact Martin Perry: C

Posted in Football Psychology, Sports Psychology Blog.