To his detractors, David Beckham is an empty-headed blond with all the verbal skills of a glamour model. But his limited command of the English language, not his exceptional talent with a football, is the key to Beckham's enduring celebrity status according to a leading academic.
By saying virtually nothing, the Essex boy with the high-pitched voice manages to be anything to anyone, fuelling the fantasies of gay pride activists, middle-aged housewives and football hooligans alike.
This is one of the findings of the first academic study into the cult of Beckham. There are even parallels between the England captain and Andy Warhol, according to Ellis Cashmore, professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University. In his book Beckham, published this week, he says that like Warhol, Beckham has become a commodity, a product that can be interpreted in endless ways from macho sportsman to touchy-feely New Man.
"As Warhol himself argued, the famous are there not to be admired or cherished ... but to be bought and sold like anything else on the market," Professor Cashmore said. And in his opinion, his expiry date is just five years away. "As he begins to engage more with the media the Garboesque mystery will dissipate."
The response to the study has been robust. "It's all a load of rubbish to say he's this enigma," said Gary Newbon, the sports broadcaster who has known Beckham since he was a teenager. "There is no myth – he is as good as he looks. Beckham is a class act."