Sven-Goran Eriksson has launched one of his strongest defences of under-fire England skipper David Beckham, insisting he is in the team for "footballing reasons" only.
The Real Madrid star came in for more criticism for his performance after Saturday's 4-0 World Cup qualifying triumph over Northern Ireland at Old Trafford.
Former Manchester United legend George Best even suggested Beckham did not deserve to retain the skipper's armband after several average displays.
The inspirational figure that drove England to the 2002 World Cup finals with his performance against Greece has certainly been less in evidence of late.
And there have been accusations that Eriksson is too close to Beckham, and he was only holding onto his place because of his status rather than his contributions to the team.
But Eriksson dismissed such theories ahead of tomorrow's qualifier with Azerbaijan at St James' Park and is adamant that Beckham could carry on at the highest level for many years unless he chose to quit.
The England coach, who has named an unchanged side, said: "I think David Beckham is still an extremely good football player. He is very important for us.
"I feel embarrassed always when I have to talk about whether he should be in the squad, whether he should be in the team, whether he should be the captain. He is in the squad, he's in the team and he's the captain - and that's it.
"I do think the expectation levels we put on him are extremely high and I think on Saturday against Northern Ireland he did a very good job for us. But, of course, if you look at some games he has played in the past, he almost carried all the team on his shoulders - like against Greece for example.
"I don't think it is fair to expect that every time. But from going from those heights to saying he shouldn't be in the team or the squad is well off the mark and I hope he is captain for the World Cup."
Eriksson insisted: "David Beckham is not in the team for other reasons other than football, absolutely not. He deserves to play.
"Yes, he is a good captain and if you ask all 23 members of the squad they will agree. He is not in the team because of other reasons other than how he plays football.