If there is one thing that has always been more impressive about David Beckham the footballer, it is David Beckham the brand.
When the free kicks weren’t firing or the crosses were off target, Goldenballs could rest easy in the knowledge that his ability to convince millions of the benefits of expensive underwear would remain undiminished.
One of his more admirable qualities, however, was how expertly he balanced the brand and the ball. While millions more know him from advertising campaigns than have actually seen him play football, the humility of the Leytonstone lad always came to the fore when he was out on the pitch.
Even at his most precocious, Beckham never appeared to lose his love of the game itself, while his genuine pride in wearing the England shirt was a sentiment which captured the heart of more than just a few romantics.
Now though, it seems the Beckham Brand has outgrown itself. It has eclipsed any self-awareness, humility and any common sense which Beckham might once have had. With his wish to captain the Great Britain at the Olympic Games this summer, he has vindicated all those who dismissed him as nothing more than a prima donna.
Why, after all, would anyone think Beckham an appropriate choice? Of the possible players, there are at least half a dozen whose selection would make more sense. Ryan Giggs is still playing football at the highest level, in one of the world’s most demanding leagues. The same can be said of Chris Brunt, Joe Cole and Craig Bellamy. Beckham has, by his own standards, been playing semi-competitive football for a long time now.
He sacrificed the ball for the brand a long time ago, and it was a decision which few could begrudge him. But it means that to select him now would not be a sporting choice. It would be at best sentimental and at worst merchandise selling cynicism. To make him captain on either basis would be an insult to the spirit of the Olympics and the amount of work that was put into securing the Games for London.
David Beckham was an excellent footballer, who served his country well, but in his brief tenure as England captain, they never progressed past the Quarter Finals of a major tournament. He is not a national hero, and he is certainly not a man in need of more recognition.
Sport is not solely about winning, but teams and players must be selected on the sole criterion that they are most likely to win gold medals for Great Britain. If not, the Olympics are for Great Britain what the World Cup will be for Qatar. The money will begin to outweigh the event. The brand will be more important than the ball.