David Beckham was packaged in so many ways at the end of his career it is easy to forget what a committed footballer he was at his peak. He always loved a haircut and was the obvious boy band candidate among his comrades in the Manchester United youth team, not hard perhaps when you were flanked by Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers.
But for all the froth that would be developed so keenly once he fell into the arms of Posh, the kid could play. Beckham was as driven as any to have worn the red shirt, obsessed even, a characteristic shared by many great footballers.
Was Beckham Bobby Charlton great, George Best great, Duncan Edwards great, Eric Cantona great? Don’t be ridiculous. What he did was maximise every ounce of talent he had and polished that right foot to within an ace of perfection.
Who can forget the goal that announced it, chipping Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan from the halfway line at Selhurst Park on the first day of the season in 1996? Five years later he arrowed in that free-kick with seconds to go to give England the draw they needed against Greece at Old Trafford to advance to the 2002 World Cup.
That ability to hit the perfect delivery when the demand was at its highest defined him. He was in that phase of his career England’s most important footballer. It is a radical position to take but you could argue that had he been deployed in central midfield he might have developed into an even more effective force.
He was, in a sense, a prisoner of that right boot. Sir Alex Ferguson could not see past it and so handed him the no.7 shirt and anchored him to the right wing, from where he would feed the appetite of avaricious centre forwards with balls whipped in accurately and at pace.
His looks, innocently cultivated in a laddish way to begin with, acquired a sophisticated makeover under the influence of his Spice Girl wife Victoria Beckham, who retooled him into a fashion icon. This repositioning of Beckham and the celebrity that went with it ultimately did for his relationship with Ferguson, and off he went to Real Madrid in the summer of 2003 with a boot in the head for good measure.
His four years at Madrid substantiated him as a footballer, and as a marketing phenomenon. By the time he arrived in Los Angeles in 2007 he was 32-years-old and no longer required viewing. He did not disgrace himself in America and retained enough of his love for the game to justify spells in Milan and latterly Paris, appropriately enough for the model pro, home of the world’s foremost catwalks.
Today’s announcement is all a bit silly. It is the Beckham construction to which we are bidding farewell. We said goodbye to the footballer a long time ago.
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