The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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David Beckham is not Manchester’s forever-man
Meet the England captain on holiday
‘Despite what people say about me and Sir Alex Ferguson, he’s been a father figure for me’

David Beckham is taking it easy, on holiday, kicking back. Sprawled in a chair at the Los Angeles Galaxy’s new stadium here this past weekend, international soccer’s most engagingly complex personality and highest-paid player is unwinding.

The stress of another dogfight of a season with Manchester United is ebbing away. England’s captain is wearing white sneakers, a pair of baggy blue jeans — the kind with all sorts of pockets and straps and doodads — a white T-shirt and a giant silver watch that almost dwarfs his left wrist.

The topic is the United States, a country Beckham enjoys and, indeed, admires. Four of the reasons why are seated alongside him, starry-eyed to varying degrees and very much hanging on to his every word. They are Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly, Shannon MacMillan and Aly Wagner, the past, present and future of the world champion US women’s national team.

Beckham is warming to his theme.

“You’d never get 100,000 fans turning up for a women’s football game in England,” he says. “You’d never get that. It’s just amazing that can happen in America. It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world.”

Because Beckham, 28, was only a teenager in 1991 when Fawcett and Lilly helped the US win their first world championship, was he even aware of the China ’91 tournament'

Fawcett and Lilly cringe. “We’re old ladies,” they cry out, laughing.

“Yeah, of course,” says Beckham. “I’m a football fan. Whether it’s English football or European football or world football or women’s football, it doesn’t matter. I was aware of it going on, but obviously being in England you didn’t see much of it.”

And is he really a fan of the women’s game'

“Of course I support it, and not just because they’re sat here,” he answers, nodding his head in the direction of the US players. “I’ve always said that I support women’s football.

“People have asked me what I’ll do when I finish playing. People always expect you to go into coaching or management. For me, I just want to have soccer schools, for boys and girls.

“Every time I’ve said that, people have always turned around to me and said, ‘Girls and women' Why'’ But I think it’s important that everyone enjoys the sport, not just men. They think it’s a macho sport. It’s not. Women’s football in England and in Europe will never get the support that it’s got in America. It’s going to be hard. It’s never going to be as big as it is over here. It could be. It could be. I’d love it to be.”

Lilly interrupts. “It’s taken us a long time too,” she says. “Yes, but you’ve taken it to a level that hopefully we can get it to,” Beckham says. “It’s a level that women over in England would dream of. As I said, I’d love it to happen.”

“So who do you pick to win the Women’s World Cup'” Wagner asks. “You,” Beckham replies, meaning the US. “You’re the strongest team.”

Wagner can’t resist taking it a step further. “Is the San Diego Spirit your favourite WUSA team'” she asks. “Of course it is,” Beckham answers with a grin. He is relaxed, at ease, enjoying himself. In Europe, things are far, far different.

Beckham and his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria, and their two children, Brooklyn and Romeo, had no sooner left England and headed to America on vacation when the rumours began curving across the continent like Beckham free-kicks.

First it was AC Milan, the new European champion owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, that allegedly was intent on luring the family to Italy’s fashion capital.

That was a couple of weeks ago, but the rumour was quickly scotched by Adriano Galliani, an AC Milan vice-president, who said that the asking price was too high.

“To see him in Milan is impossible,” Galliani told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. “It takes a lot of money, too much money.”

In any case, there is a conflict. Beckham has a sponsorship contract with one telephone company. AC Milan is sponsored by a rival. So much for Milan. Then it was Barcelona’s turn.

The Spanish club is in the midst of a presidential election set for this Sunday. One of the six candidates, Joan Laporta, has promised to bring Beckham to Nou Camp if elected. He has talked to Manchester United and offered in the neighbourhood of $50 million for Beckham. Never mind that Barcelona already is $269 million in debt. “I view this as a great price for Beckham,” Laporta told the Sunday Express.

Radomir Antic, Barcelona’s coach, has ridiculed the rumours. “So far they are rumours and nothing else,” he said.

But last week United’s chief executive, Peter Kenyon, who has called Beckham “the most recognised footballer in the world, perhaps the most recognised person,” said Manchester might be tempted by a $50 million offer.

And Beckham' What does he make of all this'

“These rumours have been going on for two months now,” he says. “About a month ago, it was Real Madrid and now it’s Barcelona. But I’m a Manchester United player. I’m contracted to them for another two or three years, I think. As long as they want me, then I’ll stay. But I’ve never said that I’d never move away from Manchester, and I’ve never said that I’d end my career there.”

One reason the British press, in particular, believes that Manchester will part with its highest-profile asset is the media’s conviction that United coach Alex Ferguson and Beckham do not see eye to eye. Or boot to forehead, for that matter. The generation and lifestyle gaps yawn wide. Beckham dismisses such notions.

“Despite what people say about me and Sir Alex Ferguson, he’s been a father figure for me,” he says.

“I’ve been at Manchester United for like 12 years now and without him I wouldn’t be the player or the person that I am today, because he had the confidence when I was 18 years old to put me in the first team and a number of other young players in the first team.”

When he was in South Africa last month, Beckham met Nelson Mandela. It is difficult to tell who was more impressed by whom. The next day, Beckham broke his wrist during England’s a 2-1 victory over South Africa in Durban.

His right arm is in a cast from wrist to elbow.

“It’s a lot better,” he says. “I think I should get this off in a week. I had the operation so I could be back for the tour. So they just put a pin in it.”

Manchester United has a four-game tour of the United States set for next month.

Lilly isn’t interested in the cast or the tour. It’s the inside of Beckham’s left forearm that intrigues her, specifically the bold tattoo. She asks what it means. “That’s ‘Victoria’ in Hindi,” Beckham replies. “And that’s ‘So that I may love and cherish.’”

“Why in Hindi'” Lilly asks. “I just like the writing,” Beckham says. Wagner takes off in a different direction, in pursuit of the Mohawk, the shaven head, the braided cornrows, the ever-changing hairdo that is the fashion-conscious Beckham’s “look.”

“Do you pick your styles or does your stylist do it'” she asks. “No, I do it,” says Beckham. “I don’t have a stylist. The only time I’ll have a hairdresser is when I’m doing a shoot or a magazine or something like that. But with the hairstyle it’s not something I plan. I’ll just sometimes wake up in the morning and think, ‘I’m bored with my hair.’”

The balding reporter can only nod and sigh.

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