The former England captain’s decision to close the curtain on his playing career signals the end of a chapter in modern football history
By Kris Voakes
He first stepped onto the football pitch as an unknown winger with a cocky demeanour and a right foot in which Manchester United’s secret weapon was hidden. He will leave it as the most famous sportsman in the world, the richest in the game, and the person who will forever be remembered as the one who embraced the modern media’s influence in football and showed his fellow professionals how to become megastars.
David Beckham’s decision to retire from football should not come as too great a surprise. Having just turned 38 and seen very little game time since signing a short-term contract with Paris Saint-Germain on transfer deadline day in January, the former England captain could easily have stayed on for another year. But he wanted to end with dignity.
At the weekend, he was celebrating being part of PSG’s first title-winning side in 19 years knowing that he had at least played some part. Next year he may not have been able to say the same thing. With the mega-money outfit looking set to strengthen even further this summer, Beckham’s opportunities would only have been further reduced. It was the right decision.
|BECKHAM’S CAREER STATS
(Jan 93-Jul 03)
However, football will be a poorer place for his departure. He began his first-team career during the season which was to mark the beginning of the sport’s TV boom period. The FA Premier League and the Champions League were both newcomers, just as Beckham was, in 1992-93, bringing untold riches into the game. By the time he became a first-team regular, it was clear he had the drive and the swagger to make the most of both his talent and his sex appeal.
When he met and married a Spice Girl, it was he that gained popularity by being with Victoria rather than the other way around, but he was soon to ensure that he would write his own headlines. With England representation came the Simeone affair of 1998, then the redemption that would follow with the captain’s armband, the leading of a new ‘Golden Generation’ and THAT free-kick against Greece.
All the while, he was winning trophy upon trophy with Sir Alex Ferguson and United. Until, that is, his relationship with the storied manager suffered one too many wobbles. ‘Bootgate’ led to him wanting out, and eventually saw him make a €35 million move to Real Madrid, where he would become the biggest emblem of all in the ‘Galactico’ era. Despite having his troubles with Fabio Capello after he announced he was heading for Hollywood, Beckham’s time in Spain ended with a league title which he went a long way towards winning.
Steve McClaren’s decision to end Beckham’s international career was premature at best, misjudged and mishandled at worst. He was back within a year and would become England’s most capped outfield player. He may not have won trophies with his country, reaching two World Cup quarter-finals and Euro 2004’s last eight at his peak, but he had given everything for the shirt.
His time at LA Galaxy came after he perhaps foolishly believed time was running out for him at the top. Two loan spells at AC Milan proved that he still had a lot to give and satisfied Capello enough to earn him more caps for his country, but an Achilles rupture while playing for the Rossoneri would end his England career for good. He returned to win two MLS Cup titles with the Galaxy and this season’s Ligue 1 with PSG, but Beckham was never quite the same when not representing his country. He fulfilled his role in America, blazing a trail which Thierry Henry and others have since followed, but he never looked happy when there wasn’t an England shirt waiting for him come international week.
It is fair to say that he will be remembered as much for his impact off the field as what he did on it, but many a modern footballer will be forever thankful for Beckham showing the way in making the most of his talent.
He was impetuous, but he was full of heart. He was cocky, but he was smart. He was a villain, but more so a hero. He was many things to many people, but football was a better place for having David Beckham in it.
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