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For England versus Brazil today, read David Beckham versus Rivaldo: two world-class performers with extravagant gifts and at something approaching the peak of their powers. But who has the edge? Oliver Holt believes that the Manchester United man will meet the World Footballer of the Year on equal terms

THE best warm-up act in world football will stride out at Wembley this afternoon. England playing Brazil as a prelude to competing in the European championship is a bit like taking a day-trip to St Tropez as preparation for two weeks in Torremolinos. However good the opposition gets during the main event next month, it is unlikely to approach the standard set by the South Americans today.
Even if they fail sometimes, even if there is the occasional aberration such as the 1998 World Cup final defeat to France, Brazil continue to represent the footballing essence of everything that England would like to be. Their flamboyance, their skill, their technical ability, their history, their joy, their athleticism - they are the ideal of the game as we would play it if our pragmatism stopped, just for once, bullying our aestheticism.

The only time anything remotely resembling a symbiosis occurred was when John Barnes dribbled his way through most of the Brazil defence at the Maracanã in 1984 and stroked the ball into the net just before half-time in a 2-0 win. Since then, England have had to stand back and take their occasional humblings, be they at the feet of Juninho or Romario. Stand back and admire. Today, though, as England step up the process of trying to convince themselves that they can achieve at least the respectability of the semi-finals in Belgium and The Netherlands, a different dynamic will be at work. For the first time in a generation, England can turn to one of the few world-class players in its team and compare him in a favourable light to the best that the Brazilians have to offer.

David Beckham has lost out to Rivaldo in a series of debates about their respective attributes this season, notably the vote for World Footballer of the Year. The longer their careers continue, though, the quicker Beckham, the younger man by three years, is gaining on the Barcelona midfield player. Rivaldo may be the more prolific goalscorer, the more lavishly talented of the two, but Beckham is the more complete player.

The more that Beckham's fame has grown in recent years, the more it has become fashionable to dismiss him as a player of limited ability whose pre-eminence rests on the dearth of English talent challenging him and the fact that he is married to a pop star. There are those among the traditionalists who seem intent on scorning him solely because he is the guiding light of the pop-star culture that has swept over English football.

His critics see him as the embodiment of the triumph of the individual over the team. The irony is that it is his commitment to the team that gives him the edge over Rivaldo. That is the great contradiction in the analysis of the men, the trick of the eye that fools so many. Rivaldo, the poor bow-legged boy from Recife who made good, is the epitome of the solid character, but his skills are quicksilver and eyecatching. Beckham, portrayed as the personification of all that is shallow and meretricious, thrives on hard work, unselfish running and creating opportunities for others.

If Beckham sometimes does not get the praise that he deserves as a footballer, it is because of this willingness to serve the team. Rivaldo is not constrained by those motives. "The one improvement Rivaldo can still make," Wanderley Luxemburgo, the Brazil coach, said, "is in deciding at certain moments whether he should go for goal himself or pass to a team-mate who is better positioned to score. Sometimes, in that situation, he does not choose the best option. I have been doing much work with him on that aspect of his play."

It is partly for that reason that Beckham does not score as many goals as Rivaldo. Nor is he as quick, or as direct, in his running. The way that Beckham has taught himself to play, though, the way that he wraps his foot round the ball when he crosses it, he does not need pace. Even if Rivaldo makes his fair share of goals, Beckham makes more. Where the Brazilian treats the duty of defending as an insult, Beckham considers it an obligation to be fulfilled with verve.

The more experienced that he has become, the more Beckham has become capable of sublime moments of creativity. His passing range, his ability to hit a cross-field ball of 50 or 60 yards with unswerving accuracy, is a quality that Rivaldo does not possess. Beckham is the master of the deadly short ball, too. A reverse pass to Ryan Giggs with his left foot that split the Arsenal defence wide open at Highbury was one of the highlights of the season.

Then there was the goal that Beckham scored against Wimbledon in 1996. One of Pelé's most celebrated moments was missing an attempt from his own half of the field such as that. Beckham's free kicks are a potent weapon, too. Rivaldo summons power with the dead ball; Beckham boasts power and guile. No one lifts the ball over the wall and gets it down again better than him. All this, though, is meant to recall Beckham's strengths rather than exaggerate Rivaldo's weaknesses. Only a fool would suggest that Wembley is not in for a treat when Rivaldo takes the field today.

"There is a select group of players in the modern-day game," Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, said recently, "who have the necessary athletic qualities to succeed but also possess exceptional gifts of control, acceleration, vision and the capacity to influence the course of a match. They are the great players and, to my mind, there is no question that the best of that elite band at the moment is Rivaldo.

"We have our share of huge talents in English football and everybody knows how much I think of men like Zinedine Zidane and Juan Sebastian Veron. But Rivaldo is the top man."

So there they are, Beckham and Rivaldo, very different and yet sharing some of the same characteristics and dilemmas. Beckham has the sweetest right foot in the world, Rivaldo the sweetest left. Beckham is the best crosser of the ball, Rivaldo has one of the most vicious shots. Both yearn to play in the centre of midfield rather than on the flanks. Rivaldo tends to sulk when this wish is denied him. Beckham gets on with the job.

His importance to the England cause is such that Kevin Keegan, the head coach, appears to be moulding his plans for Euro 2000 around him. In many ways, a 3-5-2 system would suit England's resources best, allowing Keegan to play three solid central defenders - Martin Keown, Tony Adams and Sol Campbell - together and give Steve McManaman licence to roam in centre midfield.

The problem, though, will that plan is that it would emasculate Beckham by forcing him to play as a right wing back and all the signs are that Keegan is leaning heavily towards sacrificing McManaman by playing him on the left side of a four-man midfield, allowing Beckham more scope to get forward and provide the ammunition for Alan Shearer and Michael Owen or Emile Heskey.

They are sublime talents, players who represent the best that their country has to offer. Comparisons between them this afternoon will be fascinating, not odious. What is certain, though, is that when Beckham lines up opposite Brazil and Rivaldo today, he will be competing not as another English footballing vassal but as an equal.
 

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ok that was a big post and I think that my eyes are going to fall out now, good though.
I think that this guy has decided to concentrate on Beckhams good points but fails to mention that his sweet free-kick has only succeede once for England versus Colombia.
Don't get me wrong I think that Beckham is awesome for Man U but my problem is that he does not do the same for England. The difference between him and Macca is that Macca has been scrutinised much more as people expect him to get past players all the time and ignore the fact that he runs all day and rarely gives the ball away.

I'd say that Rivaldo is better than Beckham but the gulf has decreased and is less than a lot of people will say. If you talk about attitude then the thing is that the author of the piece did not say about the legendary Beckham temper.

One last thing, I think that Beckham should be left alone, Give repect where it is due, he loves his wife and kid dearely and this is plain to see. It sets a good example and remember that he lives in a goldfish bowl.
 

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Yea you're absoultely right pool...Beckham might not score much for England but surely he has assisted in many ways, and hopefully he can show more striking power in Euro 2000.

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