Daniel Taylor

The England captain has quietly prepared for his third World Cup. He lifted England's performance in the match against Hungary The England captain has quietly prepared for his third World Cup He lifted England's performance in the match against Hungary

David Beckham made what could easily be described as a schoolboy error this week. He started feeling a bit claustrophobic at England's hotel and decided to go for a walk around Manchester's designer stores.

The mistake he made was not to go for the A-listers' traditional disguise of baseball cap, pulled low, and dark sunglasses. By the time he had got to King Street he had been mobbed. On Market Street Beckham suddenly had the strange sensation that his buttocks were being grabbed. Schoolgirls were pulling and prodding and squeezing and screaming. His beanie hat was pulled from his head and, finally, police were called to rescue him.

It is a snapshot into the madness of Planet Beckham, the type of scene that has not been seen in the North-West since the days of Ringo, Paul, George and John. Beckham, of course, is accustomed to hysteria but even he seemed genuinely taken aback. "It still surprises me what happens when I go out, even now," he said..

Safest spot

Beckham, after all, has had a pretty quiet time of it recently. While a nation's attention has been fixed on Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott, the England captain has quietly prepared for his third World Cup.

"I've been through tournaments where the spotlight has permanently been on me," he says. " This time it's not been there as much but the thing is, it's never changed the way I train or play anyway. As soon as I get on that football field I forget everything else."

He demonstrated as much in the game against Hungary, not just with his dead-ball expertise but because it was he, not Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard or anyone else, who lifted England when it was threatening to become a flat performance. "There was a headline the other day that said I'd promised to have my best World Cup. Well, I don't think I can actually promise that, but I will promise to give everything in every game. I'm determined to have a great World Cup."

One is overdue given his sending-off against Argentina in 1998 and his diminished fitness four years ago. Beckham's unhappy record extends to Euro 2004, culminating in his botched penalty against Portugal, but it is a measure of the man that he has volunteered to be one of the takers should the same situation arise. "I'm the captain and I have to lead by example. I missed three in a row for England and I can remember the press conference afterwards, me saying that I would carry on taking them and a few people sitting back, going, `What, really?' But I will take one. It's the type of person I am."

That person now has 88 caps and it seems strange that a campaign was sporadically running for him to be dropped during the qualification process.

Full of bonhomie

On Friday, however, an audience with Beckham was full of bonhomie. "I was rushing around this week, trying to get the kids some presents, but my driver wouldn't stop for me. My security guy said he had been arrested that morning and had to take his documents to a police station the other side of Manchester. So we were going through Moss Side, I was getting more and more annoyed, I saw a couple of black cabs in a petrol station and I thought, `Here's my chance.' The car was still moving but I thought `sod it' and jumped out. I was running for this cab and I could hear shouting behind me." It was only when Rio Ferdinand finally caught him up and a camera crew jumped out that he realised he had been "stitched up" for a TV show. "I was supposed to think I was being kidnapped," he added. © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

More In: SPORT | Today's Paper