Beckham out to emulate Moore
David Beckham will earn his 90th international cap when he leads England out to face Paraguay on Saturday. In doing so, he will join his boyhood hero Bryan Robson in fifth place on the country's most-capped list but it is another former England captain whom he really dreams of emulating.
Blond, good-looking and east London-born, Bobby Moore remains the only Englishman to have lifted the FIFA World Cup. Beckham, to whom that description can also apply, is seeking to follow in Moore's footsteps in Germany 40 years on from England's solitary success on home soil.
Speaking in the build-up to his team's Group B opener in Frankfurt, Beckham admitted: "There's always going to be something missing when you've not won something at the end of a period playing for a national team or a club." While next season offers another opportunity of ending his wait for honours with his club Real Madrid, Beckham must know that with England this is probably his final chance.
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He celebrated his 31st birthday in May and for all his recent talk of playing on until his mid-30s, his third FIFA World Cup could be his last. With Sven-Goran Eriksson moving on this summer, it may also mark his swansong as captain.
There are those who argue that the armband should already have passed on to one of the squad's younger leaders Liverpool's Steven Gerrard or Chelsea's John Terry, both inspiring club captains just as there are claims that Beckham's place in the team has seemed too secure at times under Eriksson.
Yet Beckham despite just four goals in his last 25 internationals - showed with his form in the recent friendlies against Hungary and Jamaica that he remains in the team on merit. Eriksson said after the latter match that his captain was "on fire" and certainly in the 3-1 win over Hungary, no one impressed more than Beckham. His crosses and set-pieces from the right provided England's greatest threat, and led directly to two goals.
Unlike in 2002, Beckham goes into the FIFA World Cup in good shape. Then he was struggling for fitness after rushing back from a metatarsal injury and despite a match-winning penalty against Argentina, he was clearly below his best. France 98 brought some unhappy memories too: he may have struck his first international goal with a trademark free-kick against Colombia but a red card against Argentina meant he returned home the scapegoat for England's exit.
As he prepares for his third FIFA World Cup, Beckham believes he is a better footballer "technically" than he was previously. "I'm quite good at the technical part of the game but it has gone up a level since I've been in Spain. It had to. You have to be technically more gifted in playing for Real Madrid," said the former Manchester United favourite.
The goal now is to show that to the world. "I'd like to think this could be my best-ever World Cup, but you can never tell what is going to happen in football."
Beckham has earned plenty of criticism for his celebrity lifestyle but the paradox of his fame is it means people can underestimate his qualities as a very good footballer. True, in Japan four years ago, the hype over Bekkamu' was not matched by his contribution on the field of play. But, as Gary Neville remarked recently to FIFAworldcup.com : "I don't think he's changed too much. He still has that great appetite to play."
His hunger right now is for glory, in the form of the FIFA World Cup. David Beckham has been called more things than he has had hair styles but lifting the Trophy on 9 July would give him what he wants more than anything. Like Bobby Moore, it would give him the stamp of greatness.