It says a lot that the biggest talking point from yesterday's game is not any particular goal, nor performance. Neither a decision of either manager, nor even the referee. All the fingers were pointed at Steve Bruce.
The former Manchester United captain, fast-improving as a manager at Sunderland, was one of many esteemed guests at Wembley last night to watch England stroll past Belarus in their final game of an exceptional World Cup qualification campaign.
All players who had been given call-ups throughout the 13-month, 10-game stint were invited to watch the match, but Bruce was in a television studio. Bruce picked the man of the match; Bruce picked David Beckham.
"I was surprised I got man of the match," Becks told Goal.com UK after the game. "There were a lot of other
players out there who played well. Peter [Crouch] took his goals well
and also credit to Belarus, who are a decent side."
Fabio Capello cracked his widest smile of the night upon hearing the announcement, and after the game, gifted the press with a golden analogy, comparing the award to the decision to honour President Barack Obama with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Beckham's contribution was a fleeting one, for the final 32 minutes of the game. Almost inevitably, it included an assist – though in truth, almost all of the credit goes to Shaun Wright-Phillips. He came inches from scuffing in his first ever England goal at Wembley, only to be denied by the post, and there were also many raking passes, though not of such a high standard that he would have necessarily stood out as an immediate candidate for the game's best player.
But then thinking about it, nobody was particularly outstanding – even Crouch's two goals didn't require especially keen instinct or finishing ability – and the unique impact Becks had was as much on the crowd as on the pitch. They roared when his name was read out as part of the squad list, were in raptures at his mere warm-up and in practical ecstacy when he took to the field. It was surreal.
He is of course the most famous footballer on the planet – and with the passing of Michael Jackson, not many left in all of celebrity land could claim to be quite as well-known as he is – and for a long time, this status overshadowed his skill.
His rise to fame beyond football was tough for many hardcore fans to accept, and his move to Real Madrid even more so. Particularly as his arrival at the Bernabeu coincided with such a star-studded yet shameful slump.
But it was on the pitch where he won back his fans. After being written off by Steve McClaren and even Capello – albeit at Real Madrid – he proved himself, and during his brief exile, everybody got to see what life without Beckham was like. They didn't much care for it.
It is perhaps what Real Madrid might be without Raul or Italy without Fabio Cannavaro, not to mention the 2007-08 example of Valencia, when Ronald Koeman sacked key players Santiago Canizares, David Albelda and Miguel Angel Angulo on the way to one of the worst seasons in the club's history.
Now, fans can't get enough of Beckham. Everybody has some appreciation of the man and the footballer. He is 11 England appearances away from being the most-capped footballer in the country's history, and if he plays in every friendly before the World Cup, as well as every game in South Africa – which would require England to get at least to the semis, so they can then play either a third-place playoff or the final – then he will hold an honour that nobody would begrudge him. Even now, he is comfortably England's most-capped outfield player of all time.
All that fanfare aside, he's either a better actor than the Goal! trilogy and Bend It Like Beckham would suggest, or simpler still, just a focused, humble and dedicated professional. "I'm just happy to play my part and I've made it clear I'll always give a hundred per cent whenever I play in an England shirt. It is always an honour," he said.
"It's up to the manager, but it would be an honour to play at the World Cup. All I can do is play to the best of my ability, play regularly during the season and stay fit – the rest is up to the manager – but I'd love to go to South Africa and this team has a great deal of talent."
And by the way, the second biggest talking point of the night was Beckham's exceptionally full beard. Peter Crouch gracefully accepted his bronze medal.
Sulmaan Ahmad & Mohammed Bhana, Goal.com UK