Football: Beckham's pain of fame

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The Independent Online
David Beckham has just sat down after training with England at Bisham Abbey when the Football Association's press officer, riding shotgun for the interview, says: "No questions about his personal life."

It is a rare request but since a similar entreaty, before an interview with the magazine Loaded, killed off the proposed question "which other Spice Girl do you fancy?" it is an understandable one. This is the territory that Beckham, teenage pin-up, boyfriend of Posh Spice, and recently voted the Sun's "hunkiest hunk", is now in. In this week, of all weeks, the spotlight must feel oppressive.

"It does get a bit tedious having a camera pointed at you all the time," Beckham said, "but being in the limelight is part and parcel of the job. There is a lot of spotlight on young players. You have a lot of responsibility and have to live up to it. You will get people wanting to take pictures of you, wanting to catch you out doing something. If I go out for a drink I do it quietly, go for a meal and a drink.

"I don't want to get a reputation for drinking, but there is nothing wrong with going out for a meal. I have got to be able to enjoy myself as well as play football. I try to stay out of places where there will be photographers. I don't want to be on the front pages, I want to be on the back. I don't want to read about me coming out of clubs or restaurants - I don't understand why people get such a kick out me doing so."

Beckham then partially answered his own question by admitting he read gossip in the press, but added, tellingly, "I don't believe a lot of it.

"The thing that upsets me most is when people suggest I have changed and got big-headed. I am not like that at all. When people are writing things to papers saying you do or don't do things, it hurts. But sometimes kids are involved and you don't want to write in and call kids liars. I don't want to upset anyone, but I don't want people thinking I'm big- headed."

Beckham can appear flash but, in the flesh, he always seems quite unaffected by his fame. This is some achievement because he has had an extraordinary year. On Wednesday he will win his 10th England cap against Moldova at Wembley. It will be a year and nine days since he won his first cap against the same opposition in Chisinau. In the intervening period, he has become one of England's most recognisable men and best footballers.

"I do go into games feeling a lot of pressure, pressure from fans, the press, everyone. They are expecting me to perform to a high level every game, which is difficult even though that is what I demand of myself. This is an important season for me. The season I had last season is a lot to live up to, but if you set those sort of standards you have to maintain them, or you will get stick.

"I feel I can produce those performances, but I am just over 22 and still learning. I have a lot to learn from the game. I have sat down with my dad and the manager [Manchester United's Alex Ferguson] and discussed how to keep it like that and hopefully get higher."

Beckham and Ferguson speak regularly. "He tells me I need to rest a lot, to practise a lot and look after myself - to concentrate on football. I want to do that. If I do have an off-day, or look down, people blame it on my personal life, which is unfair because no player can be brilliant every game. There are going to be days when you just don't have a good game."

Ferguson left Beckham out at the beginning of the season saying he looked tired. Beckham said: "You only have to look at his record to trust his judgement. I felt fresh when I came on as sub, but now I feel totally refreshed. I was very surprised at the fuss that was made. It made me feel good that people were noticing."

A touch, then, of youthful arrogance, but nothing out of the ordinary. Another comment underlined his relative innocence. "When I first came to the England camp a year ago, Glenn Hoddle took me aside and told me what he wanted from me, but also said he wanted me to enjoy it. That meant a lot, for a player I admired so much as a youngster to talk to me like that."

One might suggest that, as England coach, that is part of his job, but it underlined Hoddle's adeptness at the personal touch. Now Beckham wants to prove to Hoddle he can play in central midfield - "where I can play my best" - and control his temperament.

"We saw some videos of Le Tournoi this week and I watched the France game [when Beckham lost his head and was booked and subsequently suspended from the Brazil game] for the first time. It was so embarrassing. I get so hyped up when I play I can react like that - I'm not like it away from games.

"Hopefully, I won't do it that many times this season. I've got to prove to the manager that I can go to tournaments and not get suspended. It could have been worse - it could have been the semi-final or final of the World Cup that I missed."