Beckham will play 'even if 95 per cent fit'

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The Independent Online

Four years ago in Moldova, as England embarked on their last World Cup qualifying campaign, David Beckham was just another young hopeful. Though highly regarded, if not to the extent that Joe Cole is today, his international debut was overshadowed by Paul Gascoigne pulling down Paul Ince's pants before the match and heading a goal during it.

Four years ago in Moldova, as England embarked on their last World Cup qualifying campaign, David Beckham was just another young hopeful. Though highly regarded, if not to the extent that Joe Cole is today, his international debut was overshadowed by Paul Gascoigne pulling down Paul Ince's pants before the match and heading a goal during it.

These days, with Gascoigne in decline, the spotlight follows Beckham, so much so that on a quiet news day the fact that he missed training before Saturday's World Cup qualifier with Germany can be turned into a back page "Becks Crocked" lead for the nation's mass-circulation tabloids.

That was yesterday morning's scenario, prompting panic in newsrooms, offices and factories throughout the country. So, in the afternoon, the new vice-captain put the record straight.

"The truth is I'm fit," he said after training at Wembley. "Training went well enough - though I did not do a full session, just some crosses and shooting - and I've just got to see if there is any reaction. It's fine at the moment and I don't think there will be. It feels good and I'm confident. I feel 95 per-cent fit today and hopefully I'll be 100 per cent fit tomorrow.

"The problem is with the knee. I picked up a knock in a game two weeks ago and I've been carrying on with it niggling away. Then I kicked a ball in the last two minutes of the game with Arsenal on Sunday, caught it wrong, and it seemed to go again. For the next couple of days I was limping about." Beckham said a decision would be made today but admitted if he was only "95 per-cent fit" he would be tempted to play unless he felt he "could break down after 25 minutes". Then he would tell Kevin Keegan to omit him.

Conclusion? Fit to play, but not fully fit - but that is not exactly unusual among footballers at the highest level, many of whom play with niggles every week.

But whether Beckham plays is only the prologue to the debate. The next question is where? When he has played in the centre, as against Argentina and France, England have looked coherent. When he has played on the right wing he has provided goals but often been isolated. In addition, with the retirement of Alan Shearer, the need to get crosses into the box is less overwhelming, good passing into channels is equally important for Andy Cole and Michael Owen.

Beckham wants to play in the centre but, aware that he is likely to be on the right at Wembley, he stuck rigidly to the mantra: "The manager picks the team - I'm just happy to be in it". He did let slip, however, that it would be disappointing not to get a run in the centre.

Ironically, that is where he began his England career in September 1996, as part of a central three alongside Gascoigne and Ince in a five-man midfield. He admitted yesterday that he could not have conceived of what the next four years would bring - and "wouldn't like to have guessed". He added: "It's been a hectic four years for me. I've played in some important games for Manchester United and England and this is another one. I've loved the last four years. I couldn't have won any more medals if I had wanted to and some of the games I've played in have been unbelievable."

Beckham, who has also met Victoria Adams, married her, and become a father in that time, gave the impression that as a package he would not even have changed the bad times, such as the reaction to his dismissal in St-Etienne. "In a weird way it was a good thing because it made me a stronger person. I have learned a lot from what people have told me and said to me."

The vitriol has been less obvious this season, partly because of the passing of time and partly because the wider public finally became aware of the extreme nature of the abuse Beckham with which has had to contend after England's match against Portugal in the summer.

"It never gets easy for me, but it's easier than when it happened the first time," he added. It is to be hoped he receives the support he deserves on Saturday.

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