So farewell David Beckham, Nineties icon turned tattooed pants model who announced his retirement from football on Thursday. An opportunity for sports lovers to remember that goal from the halfway line, and for most of his fans to remind themselves that the Beautiful Game isn’t the latest Beckham fragrance. In announcing he was hanging up his boots (presumably the pink Adidas ones “inspired by his daughter” that he wrote about on H&M’s Twitter feed while promoting his new “Bodywear” line), Beckham declared: “I just want people to see me as a hard-working player.”
Reeeally? Beckham’s lament that he is hurt that his non-footballing activities have overshadowed his 19 trophies and 115 England caps seems misguided. This is, after all, a man who has spent two decades cultivating off-field celebrity. And one who has generated such wealth and status that he has redefined footballing fame despite his limitations as a player.
As a Liverpool fan, I am biased against anyone sullied by association with Old Trafford. So let me quote Alex Ferguson. “Beckham is Britain’s finest striker of a football not because of God-given talent,” Fergie said back in 1999, when Goldenballs was more player than clothes horse, “but because he practises with a relentless application.”
Becks carved out an impressive playing career thanks to graft, ambition and the absence of alternatives for the England midfield. Why be less proud of doing the same in other arenas? His next job is presumably not going to be as a FTSE 100 CEO, yet Beckham has honed his business instincts to build a global mega-brand of which captains of industry could be envious. And he does good with his fame. Lord Coe thinks so on behalf of those who enjoyed London 2012, and I’m sure Unicef and the other causes that benefit from Becks-generated column inches would agree. Instead of pretending that Brand Beckham is a regrettable accident, he should claim the credit for that hard work, too.