David Beckham announced yesterday that he would not be returning to the Premiership to finish his career, but while he finishes his playing days at Real Madrid he would like a former team-mate from his time at Manchester United, and one old adversary, to join him in Spain. Roy Keane would be an ideal target to augment the Bernabeu's stars, Beckham said yesterday, and Thierry Henry would be equally welcome.
The England captain was in London to launch the football academy that bears his name but it was the more immediate issue of Real's midfield, and Keane's future, that concerned him as the race for the 34-year-old gathered pace. It is understood to be Fiorentina and Roma who have the most serious interest in Keane beyond Celtic, and Beckham said that he was among those who believed the former United captain was not yet ready to step off the stage.
"I think he's [Keane] a great player and he's definitely got a few more years left in him," Beckham said. "For me, I'd like to see him in Madrid. There's loads of rumours there about him going to different clubs and Real Madrid was always going to come up at some point. But you never know."
As Henry enters the last 18 months of his contract at Arsenal, Beckham, whose Real team drew 2-2 with Real Sociedad on Sunday, said that it would be "amazing" if the Frenchman was to join him at the Bernabeu to counter the threat of Ronaldinho and Barcelona. The England captain said that he expected to end his career at Real Madrid with negotiations over renewing his contract, which has 18 months to run, put to one side until events at the club had "calmed down".
Even though his academy in Greenwich means that he already has a plan in place for life after football, Beckham said that he had no intention of leaving the game before his time and did not rule out captaining England in the 2008 European Championship.
"I don't want to retire from international football and being the captain of the side," he said. "This academy is something of a dream for me and it will be my future after I finish playing.
"At this point in my life I want to end my playing career at the top and I want to play for Real Madrid for as long as I can. I would have liked, for example, to have seen Eric Cantona play a few more years than he did but he finished at the top. The club and I have decided that once things calm down we will talk. It's all going off [at Real] - there's talk of a new manager."
With Ronaldinho, who scored twice for Barcelona in the 3-0 victory over Real this month, collecting the European Footballer of the Year award last night, Beckham identified the Brazilian as his major rival for honours in Spain and for success at the World Cup next summer. The 30-year-old was eager to deny reports that he was being given painkilling injections in his back by doctors at Real before matches to allow him to play and said that he had no doubts about his fitness for the tournament.
"It's been said that I have been having injections before and after every match - I haven't," Beckham said. "I've probably had two injections this season and they have only been anti-inflammatory. It will be fine for the summer. The doctors have just said to me that it is the way which I kick the ball that puts a lots of stress on my back."
After a day launching his academy, which can be found on the internet at www.thedavidbeckhamacademy.com, Beckham joked that despite the clamour surrounding Wayne Rooney, the England striker might even be still young enough to enrol.
He said that he had no fears about the reliance England have developed on the performance of the 20-year-old who, he added, played as free from inhibition as "one of my sons in the garden.
"Wayne just tries to do different things every time he plays," Beckham said. "He is proving what a great player he is week in, week out. He is a young lad, but he is winning games for Manchester United and he has got a lot of good players with him. He is performing in a way that George Best would be proud of."
On the subject of the late United winger, Beckham agreed that if Manchester United chose to retire their No 7 shirt, he would consider it a fitting gesture to mark the passing of such an accomplished player. As an inheritor of the shirt after Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona, he said that it was one of the "greatest honours" of his career to have worn the shirt during his time at United.
Cantona last night claimed George Best would now being "turning the head of God" in a bizarre tribute to the Manchester United legend. The Frenchman made his extraordinary remarks on the club's official website. He said: "After his first training session in heaven, George Best, from his favourite right wing, turned the head of God who was filling in at left-back. I would love him to save me a place in his team, George Best that is, not God."