David Beckham may be involved in the kind of legal action that would once have ruled him out of any ‘ambassadorial’ role, but his “sensational” off-field skills mean he remains central to England’s bid to stage the 2018 World Cup, a top official said Tuesday.
Last week, former England captain Beckham filed a lawsuit against a US celebrity weekly that published allegations that he slept with prostitutes.
There was a time when such claims alone would have prompted Beckham’s removal from any involvement with a bid in the traditionally conservative world of English football administration.
But such is the global fame and appeal of the former Manchester United midfielder, who now plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy in the American Major Soccer League (MSL), he is widely considered an essential member of England’s 2018 team.
A day after the lawsuit was filed, Beckham was in Trinidad helping promote England’s bid with Caribbean and African members of FIFA, world football’s governing body.
David Dein, the international president of England’s bid, speaking at a press briefing here on Tuesday, said: “I have to tell you he (Beckham) was sensational over the last few days in Trinidad.
“He could not have done more, down to the last autograph and the last photograph — he was patient, he was respectful, he was modest, a huge ambassador,” the former Arsenal vice-chairman added.
Dein’s comments came a day after the Galaxy confirmed it would take no action against Beckham as a result of an incident where a supporter heckled him following Friday’s loss to the New York Red Bulls.
Beckham approached the fan saying “Say it to my face” after the supporter taunted him about the prostitute allegations.
But Dein stressed Beckham, whose international playing career appeared to be terminated by current national team boss Fabio Capello last month, had not put a foot wrong while promoting England’s World Cup bid.
“He has gone to another level — apart from his own footballing skills — he has now developed into a wonderful ambassador for football, but particularly for England, and we’re very lucky to have him on board.”
Meanwhile Dein confirmed England will withdraw its candidature to host the 2022 World Cup if, as expected, the United States withdraws its bid for the 2018 event.
That would see the race for 2018 become a contest between European nations.
England, Russia, and the United States, plus joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands are all still in the running for both 2018 and 2022.
Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar have already declared their intention to concentrate on 2022.
If the United States pulled out from the 2018 race, they would face no European opposition for the next World Cup as no one continent can stage succcessive finals.
“We are sure it won’t be long before the United States will withdraw from 2018 leaving themselves a run on 2022,” Dein said.
“We are not really interested in 2022, consequently we will almost certainly withdraw from 2022, leaving us with a European battle.”
US Soccer president Sunil Gulati said earlier this month they would withdraw from the 2018 race if asked by either FIFA president Sepp Blatter or Michel Platini, head of European football governing body UEFA.
England have staged the World Cup just once, in 1966, when they won the tournament for the only time in their history and the last occasions the global showpiece took place in Europe was in Germany in 2006.
FIFA’s 24-man executive committee votes on both the 2018 and 2022 tournament hosts in Zurich on December 2.
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