Beckham's defiant mood fuels high expectations

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David Beckham was bullish yesterday as he pointedly claimed that he had gone to Real Madrid "and proved to people that I can play football rather than just sell shirts. I feel I have done that this season".

David Beckham was bullish yesterday as he pointedly claimed that he had gone to Real Madrid "and proved to people that I can play football rather than just sell shirts. I feel I have done that this season".

Nevertheless the defiant comments, speaking at England's training camp for Euro 2004, showed he has taken personally some of the criticisms he has faced - both for his on-field and off-field activities. He admitted to feeling "frustrated and tense" at times during games but only "because we [Madrid] have not played our best football".

"I'm totally in control," Beckham said in reference to his recent sending-off in La Liga which reopened the debate over his temperament. "People have said that the red mist is back but to be honest these things happen in football." He even joked about the dismissal - in which he called a linesman "hijo de puta" [son of a whore] - saying he did not realise it "was that bad". "I had heard a few players say it to the referee and linesman before," he said. "Maybe it sounded more aggressive coming from me."

Beckham again insisted he had no intention of leaving Madrid this summer despite the fact that they had not won a trophy. "Whatever has gone on and rumours about me moving back to England, they have not been started by me," he said. "I'm happy, very happy at the moment and look forward to going into this championship."

Beckham was speaking at the training camp at the Forte Village complex on Sardinia. He said he expected England to at least reach the semi-finals of Euro 2004. Anything less, he stated, would represent failure. That means matching the England team in Italia '90 - who, coincidentally, stayed in the same hotel.

"I think there will always be a sense of failure if you don't win anything," the 29-year-old said. "The expectations from the manager and the fans and everyone for our country is very high and rightly so.

"We have a good team and a good bunch of players." In particular, Beckham singled out Steven Gerrard who, he said, had the capability to be one of the stars of the tournament, with his "strength and power" and had "carried" Liverpool into the fourth Champions' League spot. The midfielder, he said, had the "ability to change games".

Beckham also made it clear that he expected his former Manchester United team-mate Nicky Butt to start against France in the first group game. "I think you always need players like Nicky Butt in your team," Beckham said.

He stated that his own position in the team "was a question for the manager", but that clearly appears to be on the right of a midfield diamond.

Beckham said he felt optimistic about his own form. "At least I haven't broken any bones," he said in reference to that metatarsal before the World Cup. In that competition, he said, he was no more than "95 per cent fit or less".

"We had highs and lows," he said of the campaign in Japan and South Korea. "Lows were the second-half performances," Beckham said. That was partly blamed on fatigue with Beckham highlighting the contrasting halves against Denmark in the knock-out stages. "We played some great football," he said "and then it died in the second half".

"Sometimes that is difficult to explain but hopefully that will not happen again," he said. "I still have a lot of goals [in football] and one of those is to win something with England. If we can do that this summer then great but if not I will keep trying to do that until it is complete."

Beckham insisted he was "fresh" despite admitting that tiredness had played its part in Madrid's disappointing season "especially as we don't have the biggest of squads".

The England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, said yesterday that he did not expect to make any changes to his squad - with Darius Vassell set to win his fitness battle. "He will make it," Eriksson said. So far, Beckham, Owen Hargreaves and the United players, Gary and Phil Neville, Butt and Paul Scholes have not trained - to allow them to rest as they were all at their clubs until the weekend.

Eriksson also dismissed reports that Kieron Dyer had been warned to be on his best behaviour - or face being expelled from the squad. "I have no problems with him," he said. Although England's training camp is being conducted in a gentle manner - with family present - Eriksson insisted that the preparations were "serious". "If you compare with before the World Cup, this time it is much, much better," he said. The squad he said was better and in better shape - and so was he. Beckham would concur.