In the end, David Beckham returned to his roots. He became the face on a thousand billboards, the Essex lad who turned superstar in Singapore and Seoul, and the “soccer” player who cracked Hollywood, but the fashion icon was a footballer, first and foremost.
And before he became a globe-trotting, jet-setting phenomenon, he was a Manchester United fan.
The only one of Fergie’s Fledglings to really fly the nest – air travel wasn’t required to take Nicky Butt to Newcastle or Phil Neville to Everton – bows out at the same time as his footballing father and his friend.
Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement nine days ago, Paul Scholes six.
Now it is Beckham’s time to go.
The generation game is almost over.
If the younger Neville hangs up his boots, only Ryan Giggs will remain; the first to break through shall be the last to leave the stage.
Like Ferguson and Scholes, Beckham departs as a winner.
Truth be told, he played a negligible part in Paris St Germain’s success in Ligue 1, but by becoming the first Englishman to clinch a league title in four different countries, he made history and headlines alike. The latter were always guaranteed: Beckham transcended football in a way his fellow galacticos such as Zinedine Zidane and Raul did not.
He had the looks and the liking for the limelight that made him irresistible to millions. His fame blinded some to his achievements.
“He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn’t score many goals. Apart from that he’s all right,” said George Best, perhaps the most gifted player to don the United shirt.
It was a rather graceless appraisal, even if Beckham’s inability to tackle was a recurring theme.
From 1998 to 2003, he was truly world class, a player whose formidable levels of stamina enabled him to cover untold miles on the right flank and whose right foot made him football’s finest crosser.
His set-piece expertise and long-range shooting completed a formidable package. United’s midfield quartet in 1999, with Roy Keane joining Giggs and Scholes, was awesome, each combining the physical with the technical.
Beckham’s two corners were a cause of the most astonishing turnaround in Champions League history, as the 1999 final ended in improbable triumph.
It was the greatest impact Beckham made on a major stage. His 115 England caps is a record for an outfield player.
In major tournaments, however, he struggled to justify his billing.
His World Cup in 1998 is remembered for his petulant kick at Diego Simeone that brought his dismissal and infamy in England, however short-lived.
By 2002, he was the captain and a national hero for the injury-time free kick against Greece that earned England their place.
His penalty condemned Argentina to defeat but he pulled out of a challenge against Brazil, seemingly affected by a metatarsal injury, and the eventual winners equalised.
He was abject in Euro 2004 and average in the World Cup two years later as England, seemingly affected by the celebrity culture Beckham epitomised, under-performed.
And yet beneath the bling was the most dogged of competitors.
Consigned to England’s past by Steve McClaren, a proud patriot fought his way back into the team.
After a falling out with Ferguson and the philosophical bankruptcy of Real Madrid’s financially profitable galacticos policy was exposed, Beckham was an outcast at the Bernabeu.
Yet he won over the ascetic, austere manager Fabio Capello and left Madrid a champion. It was a recurring theme; apart from his loan spells at AC Milan, he won the league in his final season at each of his four clubs.
Perhaps Beckham joined the LA Galaxy too early; he had unfinished business in Europe, as his regular returns showed.
Yet, in elevating the profile of football in America, he reinvented himself as a quarterback, spraying passes over long distances.
He remained box office, too, and even at 38, speculation about his next destination proved infectious.
Now we know: there isn’t one.
Yet while Scholes will try to fade away, the chances are that Beckham’s star will continue to burn bright.
It is not about his right foot anymore, wonderful as it has been, but a face that is among the most recognisable in the world.
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