James Lawton: Beckham's will to win helps heal French wounds

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The Independent Online

David Beckham's still vast fan club can put away the worry beads. Despite an impression of despair so acute some worried he might immediately drive to the most westerly point of mainland Europe and jump over the cliff edge and into the Atlantic, the England captain was at the time doing nothing more dramatic than having a light discussion - apparently in Spanish - and swapping shirts with Zinedine Zidane.

David Beckham's still vast fan club can put away the worry beads. Despite an impression of despair so acute some worried he might immediately drive to the most westerly point of mainland Europe and jump over the cliff edge and into the Atlantic, the England captain was at the time doing nothing more dramatic than having a light discussion - apparently in Spanish - and swapping shirts with Zinedine Zidane.

When the sweat that came with the crushing of England is washed away, the most famous blue No 10 shirt in all of football will be ironed and hung in Beckingham Palace. It will be a monument to the man who, at one of English football's most promising moments, rose up and re-announced himself as the greatest and surest football talent in the world.

But why prolong the misery of the night when Beckham's missed penalty was widely seen as deliverance for Zidane's reigning European champions - and, some said, his worst experience playing for England since his infamous dismissal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup? "I'll frame it and put it up in my house because," says Beckham, "it will give me great memories of a great player - memories are good because sometimes disappointments only make your more determined to enjoy the better ones that are ahead of you."

In Beckham this must count as raging introspection, but it is delivered lightly and with a grin and if his reappearance before his public at England's training headquarters says anything it is that, to whatever extent they existed at all, the scars of Sunday's injury-time petit mort have healed quite spectacularly.

He strides through his grilling with a sparkling optimism. He is as sanguine as Mary Poppins, as timeless as Peter Pan.

It isn't true his manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, had to rescue him from an empty dressing room and get him to face the world after defeat by France on Sunday night. He had had his comradely talk with his Real Madrid club-mate Zidane - "we just said a few things in Spanish and he gave me a 'that's the way it goes smile'" - and spent some time in the shower.

"When I came back into the dressing room," Beckham reports, "most of the players had gone - that's when the manager came up to me and said it was important that the captain responded to what had happened in the right way - I would have done that, anyway, but it helped having those words."

As for the bleak moment of the penalty miss, well, says Beckham, "A penalty is a penalty - I held my hands up on the day. If I'd scored things might have ended differently but we're never going to know this now and the important thing for me and the team is to move on from this defeat. I'm not worried about taking another penalty, and if I miss that one, I'll step up and take another - that's the way I am. Everyone knows that there are things that have gone on in my life and my career and that I've got over them. I'll carry on doing that. Nothing will defeat me - that's the way I look at things. If I miss the next four or five penalties, I will still step up to take them, though I'm not sure people will want me to.

"If Frank Lampard [Chelsea's penalty-taker] steps up I'll still want it, though if I've missed four or five I might let him have it. Maybe then I wouldn't have the choice, but my mentality is to keep on until I win."

He says that there is "good anger" in the England team and that in Coimbra tomorrow night it will be not be expressed - as Patrick Vieira suggested to the French press is the English style - in any desire to kick the Swiss in a game that cannot be lost but to play in a way that will be certain to bring the rewards which were so cruelly snatched away in the Estadio da Luz.

"We could take away so many positives from the game against France. Our tactics and our positional play were excellent, and this was not the feeling about the games we played before coming here," says Beckham. "It's great having Michael [Owen] and Wayne [Rooney] up front. The thing about Wayne is that he can come short, hold the ball up, turn and then run at people and as you saw the other night people are petrified when he does that - to say that about some of the best defenders in the world is a great testament to Wayne. Michael gives us something else; we can play the ball over the top knowing that he can get on the end of it. I still believe we can beat the French if we have to in the final - and I won't hesitate to take another penalty against Fabien Barthez.

"When we were at Manchester United we had competitions and back then I came off best. This time he guessed right."

Beckham shrugs off something that he suggests is quite inconsequential in the scheme and confidence of his football life and once again you are reminded that he inhabits a world which is proofed against the more damaging effects of self-analysis.

Today's defeat is tomorrow's triumph; that's what he will see when he looks up at the shirt of the great Zidane hanging on the wall. He is asked what insights he has gained from the great Frenchman. No particular insights, apparently, just a soaring example of what it takes to be one of the most outstanding players the world has ever known. "He just goes about his playing," said Beckham. "He loves playing and he works as hard on the training field as he does in the matches. That is what is so good to see in a player like that. I'm proud to be in the same team as him."

Meanwhile, Beckham speaks of the endless pursuit of the big victory for himself and his team. "I still believe," he says. He will always believe. But of course the years roll on. David Beckham, it is not hard to forget, is 29.

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