Beckham on defensive over his form and player power

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England's new player-manager - as some reports implied is his newly adopted role - strolled into our meeting with him yesterday determined to dismiss suggestions that he and his fellow midfielders had conspired in a players' revolt against Sven Goran Eriksson' diamond device.

England's new player-manager - as some reports implied is his newly adopted role - strolled into our meeting with him yesterday determined to dismiss suggestions that he and his fellow midfielders had conspired in a players' revolt against Sven Goran Eriksson' diamond device.

David Beckham was rather unhappier about the manner in which his own performances have been analysed. "I feel fit - contrary to what someone said the other day," declared the England captain, bristling slightly, as he did at the start of this tournament when his form was publicly debated.

Now he has been forced to defend his contribution once again. It is probably fortunate that there is a young warrior named Wayne Rooney around to deflect some of the attention from the Real Madrid man.

So pronounced is the Beckham desire for self-justification that he even manages to adapt questions on other players into a vindication of his own performance. I had asked him about Michael Owen, and what Beckham, as captain, had said to a player who appeared to be performing below his optimum level.

"I've got full faith in Michael Owen," responded Beckham. "All he needs is one chance and he'll score. That's the sort of player he is. It's all about doubting or believing in your own ability.

"Michael believes in his ability. It's just about him getting the chance and the confidence - the same with me. I never doubt my own ability."

Well, thank you for that, David, but back to Michael. Do you believe the midfielders offer him adequate support?

"There have been occasions in games when we haven't," he said. "In the Swiss game, I played a lot of passes through to Wayne and Michael. It's not nice when you're criticised. But I was personally happy with my performance, because my passing was back to what I know it can be in that Switzerland game."

It's difficult to know quite what to make of Beckham in these championship finals. After an indifferent start against France, he was more composed and involved in the second half.

During Thursday's game, when the England performance was flawed by some decidedly poor distribution, his passing was one of the few highlights. However, he still does not grasp a game with the vigour and inspirational qualities we have witnessed from him before. Could it be that he finds it difficult returning to the wide role he filled at Old Trafford?

"It's been different, because I've played in the middle all year [for Real Madrid]," he agreed. "But before that I played on the right for 10 years.

"I was listening to Rodney Marsh [on TV] say last night: 'Any great player can move from left- to right-back, can play right-back, play centre-half. If you're performing at a high level week in, week out, you should be able to move from the middle out to the right.' And he's right.

"Obviously, it changes certain things. You have to get used to defending in a different way again. I was all right against the French, but my positional play was a lot better against the Swiss."

He added: "I didn't realise how much fitness I'd lost since my last game for Real Madrid. Now I'm more than happy with it. In the game against Switzerland, I thought my passing was so much better. As each game comes along, I'm feeling a lot better. The heat the other night was a problem for all of us. There was never going to be a high level of fluid play. That proved to be the case."

Heat, fatigue (in some), lack of fitness (in others), blisters on the feet, heat - we've heard all the excuses for failure to qualify now. Surely they won't be required after tomorrow night's game?

"We can't even think about that. It is unthinkable that we go out at this stage, because of the team and the players we've got," insisted Beckham, who denied emphatically that there had been a players' "delegation" demanding a rethink of midfield tactics.

"It was never, ever like that," he said. "The manager came to me and said: 'Let's have a meeting of all the midfielders and we'll talk about it'. It was never a question of us knocking on his door. All players know that they can't do that. We respect him too much."

It does appear that several of the England players' performances are being enhanced by each game played. Steven Gerrard has not quite declared himself the Lion of England that many declared he would become before the tournament. But his goal against Switzerland and involvement in Rooney's first was a statement of intent. Certainly it demonstrated that he had placed behind him the aberration against France which cost England dear.

"Last Sunday was one of the lowest points in my career because it was an error in a massive game," Gerrard said. "We had the points in the bag. I won't deny I was down, but I didn't lose sleep - I was that tired after the game I was never going to lose sleep."

He added: "Everyone helped me. Particularly the experienced lads like Gary Neville, David Beckham and David James, as well as Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher. They just told me to forget it and get on with it. I was very down after the France game but I now feel I have the character to bounce back from mistakes like that. I think I've done that."

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