| BECKHAM: Relishing the three-horse Premier League title race
David Beckham’s world often blurs between model professional and professional model and Tuesday he combined the two, being a mannequin for the latest England strip in the morning and then showing the diligence in training that has provided the foundation for his phenomenal career.
In between catwalk and drill-field, Manchester United’s ash-blond icon talked at length about England, about arrogant opponents, the title race and the honour of being linked with Real Madrid. Running through Beckham’s various themes was his passion for football, starting with England, whom he leads against Liechtenstein on Saturday.
Dismissive of suggestions that international football was losing its appeal to footballers like himself, the proud possessor of 57 caps said: “Everyone dreams of playing for his country. The desire of all the players in this squad to play for England is massive — more than I have ever known it with the national team.
“I don’t go into England games thinking ‘it’s only a friendly today, I’ll just jog about’. Whether it’s a friendly or a qualifying game, they are all World Cup finals for me. I never want to retire as England captain.”
For club and country, Beckham relishes the ball’s company and admires those who share his sense of adventure. His vote for Player of the Year has just been cast in favour of Thierry Henry, Arsenal’s breathtaking attacking talent who echoes Beckham’s team-minded commitment and love of playing with a touch of swagger.
English audiences are fortunate to see these great artists of the expressionist movement. Beckham and Henry lead the way but there are others who bring such vibrant colour to the Premiership canvas: Gianfranco Zola, Kieron Dyer, Robert Pires, Wayne Rooney, Joe Cole, Michael Owen, Juninho, Damien Duff, Harry Kewell and Ryan Giggs (when in the mood).
Beckham most respects those who blend invention and hard work. So the European demise of Henry, Pires and Patrick Vieira surprised him. “I was surprised because Arsenal have a lot of talented players. “People might talk about the arrogance. Of course, they’ve got arrogance. Every one of the players in Arsenal’s team has arrogance — but so have the players of Manchester United, Newcastle and Liverpool.
“You have to have that arrogance to be a great team. I have great respect for Arsenal and of course Newcastle. I am enjoying being in a title race that is hotting up with three teams in the running. Newcastle are still in it. Of course, I believe we can win it.”
Rumours cling to Beckham and his future at United, particularly in the wake of the “flying boot” saga, yet this is a man not given to hasty decisions about his career. Good counsel surrounds him in the form of his agent and his father. Beckham also knows his own mind.
If he ever decides to leave Old Trafford, Beckham would consider only the most celebrated of employers, a club capable of satisfying his desire for trophies, glory, money and global exposure, the latter being a significant issue for such a commercially-minded individual.
So when a Spanish journalist relayed word of Real Madrid’s reported interest, Beckham observed: “Real Madrid have great players, great tradition. Any player would be honoured to be involved or spoken about by Real Madrid... I am honoured.”
This story will snowball if Beckham excels for United against Real in the quarter finals of the Champions League; it may become unstoppable if he lights up the Bernabeu. The thought of the game quickens his pulse, especially as he faces the opponent he considers his “toughest”, Brazilian wing-back, Roberto Carlos. The name conjures up all the adventure, magic and allure of Real.
“Roberto Carlos is a world-class player who has got everything: he’s quick, great going forward, good going back and can take a great free-kick,” said Beckham, who knows a bit about making a dead-ball live. “We have discussed free-kicks. I have met him a few times; he’s a great bloke.”
No stranger to the world of fashion, Beckham was speaking at the launch of the new England home kit which resembles a casual shirt for the pub in its short-sleeved version. Saturday’s game sees the shirt’s debut in Vaduz.
“The fans are going to expect us to go over to Liechtenstein and win by quite a few goals but it is potentially a banana skin,” Beckham warned. “But if we win on Saturday and then beat Turkey on Wednesday, the whole group changes around. Turkey have a lot of good, technical players but so have we. Owen and Steven Gerrard are in great form. And it doesn’t matter how young or inexperienced, if you are playing like Rooney is at club level he deserves to be in an England squad.”
The model professional then articulated his support for the coach. “Recently, Mr Eriksson has had quite a bit of unnecessary stick. But he’s a very good coach, a great manager and the players respect him.”