Beckham happy to blame it on Rio

The perils of fame and a team-mate's unusual sense of humour have not knocked England's leader from his preferred path. Andy Hunter reports
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In the past week David Beckham has leapt from a moving car during an apparent kidnap attempt, attracted a 2,000-strong crowd while shopping for toys in Manchester city centre, produced the pivotal performance in England's 3-1 defeat of Hungary and had a hat stolen by an obsessed fan. Fortunately, for those concerned about England's approach to the World Cup, the captain insists he is enjoying the smoothest preparation to the tournament he has ever known.

Beckham crossed the Channel for his first World Cup in 1998 consumed with anxiety about his place in Glenn Hoddle's team and in his affections and was justified in his torment when he began the first two group games, against Tunisia and Romania, on the bench. The ultimate consequence of his deep-rooted frustration hardly requires repetition here - a disastrous red card in the defeat to Argentina in the second round.

Before the 2002 tournament he wrote the first chapter on fractured metatarsals and made mistakes in his rehabilitation that hindered his contribution in the Japan and Korea. Manchester United have heeded his example in their handling of Wayne Rooney this year.

So simply being confident and fit prior to his third performance on the world stage is reason enough for private euphoria.

Though it counters the argument that Beckham is more concerned with celebrity than crossing, the removal of the Real Madrid midfielder from the national spotlight has also suited his approach this summer, with Rooney's right foot, Sven Goran Eriksson's tactics and even the suspect dance moves of Peter Crouch attracting more attention than the 31-year-old thus far.

Beckham, by the standards of his unfathomable lifestyle admittedly, has been free to focus on free-kicks, penalties and the form that separated England from an alarming result against Hungary on Tuesday night.

"I've been through tournaments where I've had the spotlight on me all the time but on this one it's not been there as much," admitted Beckham yesterday. "I don't mind that at all, but it doesn't change the way I prepare for games or train.

"The spotlight is there every day of my life so it is still there to a certain extent but it's not been as much before this tournament. I'm always quite relaxed going into tournaments, going into training and meeting up with the team. I'm relaxed playing football. On a football pitch is where I feel happiest and where I feel safest."

Happiness and safety were conspicuously absent from Beckham's life on Monday, when he fell victim to a well-intentioned if brainless hoax orchestrated by Rio Ferdinand, who arranged for the midfielder to be driven around Manchester with an apparently deranged security guard for a television programme designed to lighten the mood inside the England camp. It was hardly the finest way to wind up a man who has received countless threats to his safety and that of his family, and could easily have ended in disastrous consequences when Beckham took evasive action on the streets of the notorious Moss Side district of the city.

The England captain, now able to see the funny side, explained: "I saw the headlines this week but funnily I didn't think I was being kidnapped. I just thought I had a really, really pain-in-the-backside security man. I got in the car, had a driver taking me somewhere, and my security guard was telling me how he got arrested that morning and had to go and pick his documents up from the police station which was the other side of Manchester, the other side to where I was supposed to be going.

"Maybe on another day I would have said: 'Not a problem', but I was rushing around, trying to get the kids some presents and I was getting annoyed and then he wouldn't stop. That's when I decided to make a run for it.

"We were going through Moss Side and had gone through some traffic lights when he should have stopped. I was getting more and more annoyed. I looked in the car behind and there was a camera crew. That happens every day in Spain where there's camera crews following you rather than the paparazzi. I wanted to get out and run. I saw a couple of black cabs in a petrol station and thought this was my chance. The car was still moving slightly but I thought: 'Sod it'. I jumped out and then decided to run for a black cab.

"That's when I heard Rio's voice shouting at me, but a car had pulled across him and I couldn't see him so I kept running. I just kept running for a black cab, I can't remember the last time I had to get one of them, but as soon as I saw Rio I realised the joke. I always thought he couldn't get me, but I'd like to apologise now for the language I used."

Perhaps a whoopee cushion might be better next time.

Beckham will have a more comfortable journey through Manchester this afternoon en route to the friendly against Jamaica at Old Trafford, where Eriksson faces his last home game as England manager and - perhaps - the Real Madrid man will wear the captain's armband at his former club for the final time. His captaincy, like his fame, will not go quietly, however.

"The attention I get still amazes me," he said. "On Monday I was still a bit shaken, then I went into a shop and 2,000 people turned up. Just to round my day off, someone nicked my hat. It does still surprise me that when I come back to Manchester, where I spent 15 years of my career and of my life, I get a reception like that and even in London I had the same a few weeks ago. I couldn't get out of the shop and six policemen had to help me out, but it's a nice thing that people want to shake your hand, get your autograph or nick your hat."