Style icon David Beckham calls time on his drawn-out retirement
'Goldenballs' never disgraced himself but former England captain ceased to be a major player years ago. Remember him at United peak
The decision to go was presented much like an announcement to the Stock Exchange, wrapping in formality what industry insiders already knew. David Beckham was finished as a footballer long ago. The association with Paris Saint-Germain and even Milan before that served a purpose of sorts but the bit-part nature of the enterprise reflected more the strategic positioning of Beckham the brand than the player.
By co-incidence he takes his leave in the same week as Sir Alex Ferguson, the guru who shaped his early years and brought him to a peak of efficiency seldom matched. Beckham, now 38, was not a great in the manner of the Manchester United all stars that went before him, he did not have the graceful power of Duncan Edwards, the alacrity and flair of Bobby Charlton, the genius of George Best or the intuitive grasp of Eric Cantona, but all he had he gave without spilling a drop.
None was more committed to the red shirt than the fop-haired boy from Essex with a GPS in his right boot. Beckham could locate a team-mate from almost anywhere, accurately and at pace. He 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. Beckham was driven, obsessed even, a characteristic shared by the very best.
It is this attribute that accounts for his longevity. His enthusiasm for being photographed in his pants, or wearing sarongs in New York City, or lending that smoky profile to countless publicity shots, never once came between him and the game. None trained harder or was better prepared. In all that he has done with a number on his back Beckham has never been anything other than professional.
As a footballer the ability to hit the perfect delivery when the demand was at its highest defined him. 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 in his sleep.
It is a radical position to take but you could argue that had Beckham been deployed in central midfield he might have developed into an even more effective force. Who can forget the goal that announced the freakish precision, chipping Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan from the halfway line at Selhurst Park on the first day of the season in 1996?
Five years later in October 2001 he arrowed in the free-kick with seconds to go that earned England the draw they needed against Greece at Old Trafford to advance to the 2002 World Cup. What a galvanising moment that was. Shaven-headed, eyes narrowing on the target, there was only one place that ball was going. In this phase of his career Beckham was England's most important footballer.
And because he was so demonstrably wedded to the cause, England supporters who once saw fit to hang an effigy from a lamp post following the sending off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup learned to love him almost as much as the partisans from Manchester. He would be gone from his adopted city within two years, a boot from the boss kicked across the dressing room signalling an imminent parting of the ways. By then Beckham Inc had forced upon the world a construction far removed from the essence that Ferguson had nourished with parental care and attention.
Beckham always loved a haircut and was the obvious boy-band candidate among his comrades in the United youth team; not hard perhaps when you were flanked on one side by twin carrot tops Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt and on the other by the Neville brothers. 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.
The masterful repositioning of Beckham and the celebrity that went with it ultimately did for his relationship with Ferguson, whose ideal footballer went home to the wife and read bed-time stories to the kids. Beckham did the latter while the missus absorbed fashion tips beside the catwalk. His absence from training to nurse the sick brood while Posh was out with the fashionistas cost Beckham a week's wages in 2000 and re-inforced the prejudices of a boss convinced his boy's head had been turned.
They both accepted the inevitability of the parting, which Beckham managed with his customary aplomb. He never stopped loving United. In another era under different management he might never have had to leave. But this was Fergie's time and none was bigger than the club. Beckham understood that.
His unveiling at Real Madrid in 2003 was an event all its own. And in his four years at the Bernabeu he filled the role of galactico comfortably alongside the great Zinedane Zidane and Raul, substantiating his reputation 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, where he maintained the habit of signing off with a championship medal, as he did at United, Madrid and LA Galaxy.
The announcement was all a bit unnecessary. Though he is resistant to the idea, it is the Beckham construction to which we are bidding farewell. We said goodbye to the footballer a long time ago. But he was some player. He is right to be proud of his work at Manchester United and Real Madrid, not to mention his 115 caps for England. That is a CV that needs no sexing up.
Local lad's finale is lost in translation
The chances of French champions Paris St-Germain ever playing third-tier English side Leyton Orient are remote but some fans of the London club still think David Beckham could be heading their way.
The former England captain, born in Leytonstone near Orient's ground, said his final match would be for PSG at FC Lorient in north-west France on 26 May.
Leyton Orient moved quickly to prevent any confusion. "Already had a few phone calls but to clear things up Beckham's last game is against FC Lorient not us," they said on Twitter.
An Orient spokesman said it was not the first time the two had been confused. "But to be honest, the people I spoke to were pretty clueless," he added.
Highs and lows: The Beckham years
1999: United win the treble
Beckham's most successful season as he wins the league, FA Cup and Champions League.
World Cup 1998: Sending-off
Dismissed one minute into the second half against Argentina as England lose on penalties.
November 2000: England captain
Stand-in England manager Peter Taylor names him captain for the friendly against Italy.
Oct 2001: Free-kick against Greece
Seals England's place at 2002 World Cup by scoring a stunning free-kick at Old Trafford.
June 2003: Signs for Real Madrid
United announce they have accepted a £25 million offer and Beckham becomes one of the galacticos alongside Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Luis Figo.
August 2006: Omitted from England squad
Steve McClaren leaves Beckham out of his squad to face Greece.
Goldenballs: Beckham in numbers
£165m Beckham's fortune, according to The Sunday Times Rich List.
97 Number of club goals. Beckham scored 17 times for England.
115 England caps, making him second in the list behind Peter Shilton.
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