He's learned so much in Spain: patience and game sense, above all. These are not the same as improving the free kick or the crossing technique, although Beckham's trademarks are even more intact than when he played at Manchester United. His real gift is delivering a ball that you can do something with.
When Ronaldo called him 'a Brasilian,' that was when he had just arrived at Real Madrid. Beckham, now, is a player who makes everyone else more potent and provides to the aggregate a sense of rhythm as well as confidence off the ball. It makes the whole a lot more dangerous.
Accordingly, you can't put a value on his importance to England's possibilities in Germany next summer. But let me drive the point by helping you imagine what it's like to defend against the recent England team. The middle four are scary. Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Joe Cole: each can hurt you in different ways. Beckham will go down the line four times and then, when you take that away, he'll cut inside and hold the ball up, allowing Gerrard and Lampard -- either or both at intervals -- to crash into the middle. If you give Beckham the outside, he will simply lay benders onto the forehead or boot of Owen and Heskey, Owen and Crouch, Owen and Vassell, Owen and Defoe -- it hardly matters which pairing. The only way to stop this is to stop Beckham from playing; and then you have to contend with Joe Cole who's usually feeling dangerous and will run at you from the left.
That's England's DEFENSE. What about their OFFENSE? Neville (or my preference, Carragher), Campbell, Terry and Ashley Cole. They just don't give anything away, and when you're not keeping the ball against them they will join in with the other Frightening Four -- especially Ashley, who has a way of keeping a whole left side occupied. That's on his own: double Coles down the left is surely treble work for a defending team. This often leaves St. David on the right unmolested.
From the opponent's point of view, defending against England is like herding cheetahs from a bicycle. I didn't even need to mention the intelligent speed of Micheal Owen which just lingers there, a constant threat, and creates gaps which Lampard or the DoubleColes will not shrink from exploiting.
The only perceptible weakness in England is their English reserve, and an unlucky perhaps Scandinavian habit of playing tense; certainly not a lack of heart. If Mr. Ericsson can do anything else this year he can work on strengthening their winning mentality, help them relax and visualize coming back late from 1-nil or 2-1 down or visualize coping with a negative opponent -- of which there will be many.
The big ingredient Beckham provides in this context is confidence. The confidence to mix up the pace, to probe dangerously even while slowing down, and he possesses and grants others the license do surprising things -- like permitting Joe Cole to attack at odds from the right flank instead. It should be clear that England is a more interesting as well as potent team under Beckham's captaincy. The only question remains how well they bear our high expectations.