THE hair that has become one of his trademarks, one of the reasons the hordes of teenage girls scream whenever he runs on to the pitch, was falling in thick strands over the forehead of David Beckham. So he was asked whether he actually uses the Brylcreem brand he promotes. 'I use it all the time,' he said, and the widest of grins creased his face. The Manchester United midfield player, who is one of the most exciting young talents in the country, the man who scored the goal on the opening day of last season that was beyond Pele, is starting to smile again now after enduring a torrid few months that, after the continuous adulation visited upon him last year, must have seemed like a kind of crisis. First, concern was expressed in some quarters that all the publicity he was receiving because of his romance with one of the Spice Girls was undermining his play. He was pictured wherever he went with her - leaving restaurants, wandering on the beach, walking hand-in-hand in the street. Then, after Beckham played two games for England in the Tournoi de France during the summer, Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said he was worried that Beckham had not had enough rest during the close season. He was left behind for the club's tour of the Far East and then left on the bench for the FA Charity Shield and the opening two games of the Premier League campaign. He scored the winner in the second of those, though, when he came on in place of Paul Scholes against Southampton and has been in the first XI ever since. Now the doubts and the worries that had been bouncing around his mind have gone and Beckham is talking earnestly about his plans for raising his game to the level that it was at last season and keeping it there. 'This is just as important a season for me as last season,' Beckham said. 'Last year was a frightening year for me because it went from that goal on the first day of the season to an England call-up to winning the league. It was just brilliant from start to finish. But when you set those sort of standards, you have got to keep to them. 'I am still just 22, I am still learning the game and I have still got a lot to learn, but I go into games now feeling a lot of pressure from the fans and from everyone else because I am expected to play at a high level. 'I am conscious that people are demanding more of me this year, but I feel I can rise to those expectations and turn out those sorts of performances. 'Whenever I do have an off game, people blame it on my personal life, which is unfair because there is no player who can have a brilliant game every week. There are going to be games when you are down. 'I was disappointed when I was left out at the start of the season, but you only have to look at the manager's record to see what he has done over the past years and I have to trust him that he is doing what is best for me. I certainly feel fresh now. 'People made a lot of fuss about the fact that I was left out of the team and that made me feel good. It made me feel as though people were noticing. 'Now I am back in the side, though, and I have sat down with my dad and with the manager and talked about how to keep my standards as high as last season. I just want to get better and better throughout my career, keep learning from other people.' Beckham said that, of all the things that had been written about him, of all the photographs that had been taken, the thing that had upset him most was the suggestion that all the publicity had changed him and made him into someone who was arrogant and dismissive. 'That is just not me,' he said, 'but sometimes it is kids writing into the papers saying these things and I don't feel I can go around calling kids liars.' In fact, Beckham is almost shy, a quietly-spoken, uncomplicated young man with an easy sense of humour and a ready smile, someone who was embarrassed when he saw footage of him losing his temper spectacularly during the Tournoi, someone who seems to find it genuinely hard to understand why anybody would be interested in pictures of him and his girlfriend leaving a restaurant after an ordinary meal. His mantra is 'all I am interested in is playing football' and this season, and for many others to come, he is likely to be able to pursue his interest to the full. His quest this year, he said, is to establish himself in the central midfield role for England that most people recognise would be his best position. 'I just want to be in the squad,' Beckham said, 'but, yes, it is one of my goals to get the central midfield role. It is important for me to prove to the manager that I can fulfil that slot. That is where I think I would play best.' It was put to him that perhaps he already had a licence to drift in from the flank at United anyway. 'Only if I'm on the opposite side of the pitch to the manager,' Beckham said.