Beckham puts hat on leading England to glory

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The Independent Football

When David Beckham last walked down the tunnel at Wembley, his then manager Kevin Keegan was in the toilets delivering his famous resignation speech to the Football Association. That was, Beckham admitted, one of his "worst moments" in an England shirt, but six years later coming down the Wembley tunnel yesterday he had much greater reason to be cheerful.

Wembley, as Beckham pointed out, has "changed remarkably". The tunnel is on the halfway line rather than behind one of the goals, the roof is unfinished, the pitch area is sand and no one is sure when this £757m project will be complete. The tunnel toilets, however, are already fitted to a high standard, although Steve McClaren, the next England manager, will hope he does not have to use them for any impromptu meeting soon.

At 31, Beckham is one of the few in the England squad who played at the old Wembley. As he and his team-mates put on the hard hats, boots and fluorescent jackets to tour the stadium yesterday, Beckham said he hoped he would be around to exorcise the memory of that defeat by Germany on 7 October 2000.

"I would love to lead the team out at this stadium, the new Wembley," he said. "The last time I played at Wembley was one of the worst moments I have had in an England shirt in that Germany game.

"I don't want that to be my last experience of Wembley. I want to lead a team out at this new stadium. I've not been back since. It wasn't nice walking down that tunnel after that game. I want to have another game here. You have to move on and we have done, obviously, with the new stadium but the memories are still there from that game and it wasn't a day I can remember fondly."

After two difficult months for the FA, taking the squad to Wembley was a public relations master stroke - a reminder to the players of the glorious stadium that represents the future beyond this World Cup finals and the Sven Goran Eriksson regime. For 23 players looking at up to eight weeks together in Portugal, England and Germany - and the prospect of World Cup cabin fever - it was probably the most memorable day trip of the summer.

They kicked a ball around in the sand - not easy with the health and safety boots on - and had their pictures taken with the builders who had downed tools for the visit (although hopefully for not too long afterwards). No one needed telling that the first England team to line up in the new Wembley will feel unique, although Beckham accepted that his continuing captaincy is not yet certain.

"The manager will decide that and it will be Steve's decision when he takes over," Beckham said. "For now I am the captain and will lead the team into the World Cup and, hopefully, we will be successful. After that we will have to wait and see.

"People are always going to question things and they will carry on doing that. There's only one man who can decide things and that is the manager."

He accepted Bryan Robson's recent argument that Beckham is no natural England captain with good grace - "it doesn't change that he was one of my biggest heroes" - and admitted that Theo Walcott made him "feel really old". But most of all Beckham said he was much fitter than when he approached the last World Cup in 2002 still recovering from a broken metatarsal.

"We've got confidence in each other, the manager and the players we've got," he said. "We have a lot of young players in the team but also a lot of experienced players who've been there and been in big games and delivered great performances in them. That's where the belief comes from.

"I think we have to go into every game believing. It doesn't matter if you're up against Brazil or Argentina or teams not as good as those. We've got to treat every game as if we're playing Brazil or Argentina. That's what you need to do."

He said that coming back to Wembley with England as world champions would be the "perfect scenario". But he would not wish to stop there. "I believe there is more to come from me," Beckham said. "I feel there are four or five years left in my career and that will be as an England player as well as a Real Madrid player."