World Cup glory for England?

He may be out injured with an Achilles tendon injury, but England star and international football icon David Beckham could still be an important part of this year’s World Cup in South Africa.

Despite his hopes of playing in his fourth tournament being dashed by a freak injury suffered while playing for AC Milan, Becks may well prove to be England’s secret weapon in the greatest football tournament on earth.

But, rather than those trademark free-kicks and lethal set pieces doing the damage, his mere presence at the tournament could be the key to a potential World Cup winning campaign – and in more ways than one.

The 'Becks Effect'

Indeed the ‘Becks Effect’ is not lost on England boss Fabio Capello who has invited the inspirational star and ambassador to be part of the party which travels to the tournament, the first to be staged in the continent.

And, according to experts at the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure, should Becks take up the invitation, he could play a vital role without even kicking a ball.

Professor Alan Nevill and Professor Andy Lane are both nationally-renowned for their sports research and feel that the ‘Becks Effect’ could be a very positive factor for this year’s Cup.

"It was highly likely that Becks would have been part of the final squad had he not been injured, and his injury was a major blow. But by inviting him along, Becks can still play a pivotal role," says Professor Nevill. "It’s a very astute decision by Fabio Capello."

Professor Lane agrees. He is part of the research team EROS (Emotional Regulation of Others and Self), and is examining psychology around sports. The research is looking at how environments and people shape moods and emotions, with a view to using findings to make recommendations such as how coaches can get the best out of athletes.

In relation to Beckham being invited to South Africa, he says: "Given his age, it suggests it’s not his footballing genius that counts. His contribution is in other areas; he lifts the performance of those around him."

Catching moods

He says research shows that people can ‘catch’ good moods from others and can uplift the moods of those around them.

"It’s possible that Beckham raises the emotions of others by giving encouragement. His influence is very positive and his desire to succeed can be ‘caught’."

Position of influence

And that is not all. As the bidding process for the World Cup in 2018 hots up, Becks is seen as a major player in helping to secure England’s bid to stage the tournament for the first time since 1966.

He was famously part of the delegation which secured the London 2012 Olympic bid and many feel his influence, charisma and aura are just what is needed to spearhead the campaign.

"The beauty of Becks is that he can not only influence the short-term goal of helping the team do well, he can also lead us to glory in what is arguably just as competitive a competition – the bid to host a tournament. If Becks is in South Africa, it is highly likely to enhance our chances," says Professor Nevill.

Of course, Becks will not be the only factor that could impact upon England’s chances of winning the tournament. Other factors such as team consistency, luck and home advantage for South Africa will still play a part.

The key to success

Professor Nevill undertook research last year which revealed the key to success lies in picking an unchanged side.

It showed the most successful teams over the past 40 years have been those where managers have made the fewest changes during a season.

There are a number of explanations why managers no longer pick the same teams. The most likely one is that the demands of the modern game and increase in tempo mean it is becoming physically more demanding with much greater risks of injury.

"If we can’t produce our best 11 for the key matches it is quite likely that through injury or squad rotation we would anticipate a less successful outcome," he says.

In addition, he has been working with MSc Sports student Paul Morris on the element of luck and the role it plays in football. This has involved examining how many own goals and deflections occurred throughout the season.

This revealed that in March 2010, the percentage of own goals since August 09 was 4.2% and that of deflected goals was 6.5%, making a total of 10.7% of Premiership goals this season having a huge element of luck.

"There are a lot of factors involved but we do need a little bit of luck to win the World Cup," says Professor Nevill.

It seems that luck could well be on the host country’s side. The referee’s decisions can be influenced by the home advantage. South Africa will have the benefit of a supportive home crowd and are more likely to get favourable decisions from the referees.

Both Professor Nevill and Professor Lane have conducted extensive research into the subject and say it is common knowledge that soccer teams win more home games than away games.

"A referee will tend to wave play on rather than penalise the home team, and the referee will seek to penalise the away team," says Professor Nevill.

So there are many factors which could influence England’s performance in the 2010 World Cup.

But if all goes to plan Becks could claim the greatest hat-trick of his career in the most unlikely of circumstances.

After all, he could still be involved in the tournament he desperately craves for, help raise team morale and he could also be the key to our bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

Photo by Mark Leech/ Rex Features