David Beckham reiterated yesterday that he has no intention of retiring after the 2010 World Cup, should England qualify, and said that he would always make himself available to be selected for his country. "I wouldn't want people wondering why I'm still playing," Beckham added, "But I'd like that option to be involved in the squad. If that happens when I'm 45..."
Then, who knows, indeed. After all, Paolo Maldini is still going strong at 40-plus, although he retired from international football several years ago, after acquiring 126 caps, and it has been Beckham's move to the Italian defender's club, Milan, that has restored his belief in his own ability and his confidence which collapsed, he admitted yesterday, after he was summarily told by the then England manager Steve McClaren, following the last World Cup, that he had no future with the national side.
Even so Beckham, who will turn 34 in May, admitted that had he not been able to broker a deal to return to Milan next season, including stumping up some money himself, and had been forced to remain with the Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy, then his international career could have been over. "Possibly," Beckham said. "I knew I had to be playing at the highest level to put me in a position. It doesn't guarantee me an England place, being at Milan. But it gives me, in my own head, the satisfaction that I'd done everything I could."
It also helps with Fabio Capello. The England manager urged Beckham, whose contribution and influence he has made clear he values highly, to seize the opportunity to end up in Serie A – the midfielder confirmed yesterday that Milan made an 11th-hour offer to try and sign him before his move to the United States in the first place – and both men believe the decision has been vindicated.
"I didn't feel my legs had gone or that I didn't still have it," Beckham said. "But confidence-wise, maybe. I've always been quite a confident person and I've taken it on to the field and maybe that was the biggest thing. When I went to Milan, I didn't know whether I was going to play a game or whether I'd be able to keep up with the pace of some of the players in the team, but I surprised myself. In that first game against Roma, and then continuing to play. The confidence is back that I think I can still play this game.
"I'd gone through a couple of down points in my career. Obviously, being taken out of the England squad was a big one. That knocked my confidence a lot. That's how things affect you. That affected me. But at Milan my confidence has been taken to another level. Form-wise and fitness-wise. A lot of people thought I wouldn't start a game or play in any games. Even I was thinking that, going to a Milan side with the players they have.
"Starting the Roma game was a big thing for me. Starting every other game has been huge, too. Playing at a club like Milan, and with the players they have got, has improved my confidence and my form. I'm playing pretty well at the moment. Maybe England will benefit. I'm still not going to have the pace I've never had. But I'm experienced and playing well. I've always said that if my fitness is at a high level, I can perform."
It is likely that Beckham will surpass the record of Bobby Moore of 108 England caps for an outfield player – behind Peter Shilton's overall total of 125 matches – at some point in tomorrow evening's friendly at home to Slovakia.
"You'd love me to retire," Beckham said when pushed on his future intentions and whether it was time to give some of the younger players an extended chance. "I think the manager is doing that. That's been one of the exceptional things about Fabio Capello coming in. He's played people like Theo [Walcott], who have been incredible for their clubs. I'm not going to complain about that. Without a doubt Theo, Aaron Lennon and Shaun [Wright-Phillips] have been exceptional. I don't feel as if I'm getting in their way. I can help with my experience. To be here and be around these players, to see the talent coming through, is a good thing. An important thing for our country."
That importance will be tested once Beckham, temporarily at least, returns to LA Galaxy. He will be in the United States when England face the Netherlands, in an August friendly, Slovenia in a September warm-up and, more importantly, the World Cup qualifiers at home to Croatia, away to Ukraine and back at Wembley to face Belarus. How will Capello react? "He's picked me for England squads while I've been playing in LA," Beckham said. "Hopefully, I'll be involved in those games. If not, I'll work hard on my fitness and my game."Reuse content