Burning desire likely to see Beckham soldier on

MILAN - A burning desire to compete that has marked his career from the outset means David Beckham is unlikely to quit football despite being likely to miss this year's World Cup due to an agonising Achilles tendon tear.

The 34-year-old England midfielder, who suffered the injury in AC Milan's 1-0 win over Chievo on Sunday, has shown his battling qualities time and again during a career where he has been portrayed as a fashion icon as much as a football player.

"The guy sees himself primarily as a footballer and if he can come back, he will," Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sport Business Strategy and Marketing at Coventry University, told Reuters.

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Already in the twilight of his career, a determined Beckham had persuaded Los Angeles Galaxy to let him have two loan spells at Milan in order to stay in the reckoning for an England squad place at what would have been a fourth World Cup.

Now that his dreams of playing in South Africa in June look in tatters, given the recovery period from such an injury is generally over three months, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid winger will be contemplating his future.

He already holds a record 115 caps for an England outfield player but the prospect of missing the World Cup has hit him hard, judging by the touchline tears on Sunday and his dejected look when leaving his hotel to fly to Finland for an operation.

One of the most marketable sportsmen in the world had previously said he had no intention of retiring from the international game after the tournament despite his age.

Beckham has consistently said how inspired he was by former Milan team mate Paolo Maldini, who played on until he was 40, but the Londoner would also accept his recent form has been well below the heights he reached in his prime.

A humbling 4-0 defeat by United in the Champions League last week at his beloved former Old Trafford home will have left him with mixed emotions too.

INNER DESIRE

Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani is sure he will return to club football at least and has offered him the chance to play for the Italian side again next season even with no World Cup in sight.

"He came to Milan in order to be called up by England coach Fabio Capello. Unfortunately this is football but he has a real strength of mind," Galliani said, aware Beckham is due to return to Galaxy and the less high profile U.S. league in July.

That inner desire to prove people wrong has been burning within Beckham since he burst onto the scene at Manchester United in the mid-1990s.

He was reviled for being sent off in England's World Cup defeat by Argentina at the 1998 World Cup but came back to help United lift the 1999 Champions League.

The national captain shrugged off a metatarsal injury to participate in the 2002 tournament and when he left United in 2003, Beckham became a rare English player to be successful abroad during his four-year spell at Real.

His mega-money move to Major League Soccer club Galaxy, where he still has two years left on his contract, demonstrated his shrewd business brain and he will not be short of opportunities if he fails to make a sporting comeback.

"I don't think he necessarily does need to come back to football from a commercial point of view. He's created a post-career business empire if he doesn't come back," Professor Chadwick added.

"Milan reinvigorated his football career and he put commercial activities to one side. But there's only one thing certain with an athlete brand, they are going to get old and retire."

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