Exclusive Interview - David Beckham: 'I'm not even thinking about retiring and might play until I'm 40'
Exclusive from Oliver Holt in Milan
David Beckham told a story about a misunderstanding yesterday.
It happened a couple of weeks ago when a television crew went to interview the AC Milan club doctor, Jean-Pierre Messerman.
They asked him if Beckham would stay fit enough to play in the World Cup and the doctor said it wasn't even an issue.
Dr Messerman began to talk about the weather in Brazil and how it would be hot and humid but that he thought Beckham would cope fine.
The interviewer stopped him short and said he had meant the World Cup in South Africa not the one in 2014, when Beckham will be a month into his 40th year.
Beckham smiled when he told the story. It had made him think about the prospect of playing in a fifth World Cup finals and he liked the idea.
He did his best to dismiss the thought and tell himself it was an impossible dream but Dr Messerman was insistent that it was anything but.
"He turned round to me," Beckham said, "and he told me 'you know you could play for another five years at the top level, you know that, don't you?'"
Beckham is not Peter Pan but after Sir Stanley Matthews, he is the closest thing England have ever had to the boy who refused to grow old.
He has 115 caps for his country and has just resumed his career with AC Milan in Serie A looking as if he had never been away, earning rave reviews for his recent performance against Juventus.
So Beckham, 34, was astounded and annoyed when he saw reports last week suggesting he had already decided he would quit after the World Cup this summer.
In a frank and wide-ranging interview with Mirrorsport, at the hotel where he lives in Milan, Beckham said he intended to grow old gracefully but that retirement had not even entered his mind.
"I would love to still be playing in five years' time," Beckham said, "but we will have to wait and see. I definitely think it is possible if I look after myself and carry on doing what I am doing.
"I haven't said anything about retiring and I'm not thinking about it. It's something that's definitely not true and it's not going to happen.
"I can't even see the logic in the idea. If I was to be picked in the squad and we were to go all the way in the World Cup and win it, people might turn round and say 'it's a great time to quit'.
"But I'd still carry on playing. It's all about your passion for the game and how much you love playing, not reaching a certain level and saying 'you can't better that'.
"When the doctor told me the story about the TV crew, I thought about Brazil in 2014 for a moment. It may be something that is out of reach but I wouldn't rule myself out of playing at that time.
"I doubt I'll still be playing for England by then but you never know. I've had so many ups and downs in my career, who knows what will happen?
"I certainly don't think I'm stopping any other player from having their chance. If young players are doing well and they deserve to be in the team, the England manager would put them in the team.
"Everyone knows by now that Mr Capello is a man who doesn't care what you have done in your career or what your name is. It is about how you are playing and what you can do for the team."
Football is a compulsion for Beckham, just as it was for Sir Bobby Robson and for so many players who love the game and dread the day when they can avoid retirement no longer.
He is not doing it for the money. That's obvious. He doesn't need any more money. He could quit tomorrow, move to LA and live the life of a professional celebrity.
But that's what the people who have consistently mocked Beckham's image have never quite got about him: beneath the veneer of the celebrity appearances and the famous friends, Beckham's driving passion is football.
Apart from his family, football is more important than anything else. That's why he refuses to desert it. That's why he won't let it go.
"I'm not bothered about growing old and I'm not bothered about what I look like," Beckham said. "I will definitely be growing old gracefully.
"There is a serenity about me off the pitch now that maybe I didn't have before. You just get more mature, I suppose, and I enjoy having that calmness.
"But I still know I can flip, especially on the field. When things are not going right, when things are going against my team, it gets to me very quickly.
"I like to think I wouldn't kick out at Diego Simeone if that incident from the 1998 World Cup finals happened again tomorrow, but I can't promise you that I wouldn't. It happened on the spur of the moment. It's difficult to predict how I'd react.
"I will miss football when I stop playing and I'm sure I'll need to find something to fill the gap. When you have been a top-flight footballer for many years and you have that rush when you score a goal or even step out on to the pitch in front of the crowd, there are not many things that would come close to that feeling. It's just about coming to terms with that situation.
"It helps that my family has always been my number one priority anyway. I am sure my wife will be fed up with me being at home when I stop. But I am trying not to think about it yet."