x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Newsmaker: David Beckham

A profile of the English footballer as he ends his US football career.

Illustration by Kagan Mcleod
Illustration by Kagan Mcleod

When David Beckham made the shock move from Real Madrid to the United States five years ago to join the LA Galaxy, the then Real president Ramon Calderon said: "He's going to Hollywood to be a second-rate film star."

Last weekend was very much the Hollywood ending befitting a player who has transcended football and entertainment like no other before him as he helped the Galaxy win the MLS Cup.

He was substituted, with three minutes remaining, and came off to rapturous applause. It was quintessentially Beckham but, despite Calderon's earlier protestations, it was far from second rate. The 37-year-old has a way of going out with a bang. At his previous clubs of Manchester United and Real, he had also bowed out in his final match by winning the league title.

Despite his age, he insists there remains one final throw of the dice and there is no shortage of offers. Paris St Germain and Monaco are both interested, while London clubs Tottenham and Queens Park Rangers are among those to have professed an interest. The list of suitors spans various continents.

It is questionable what Beckham might still be able to offer on the pitch, as his pace and powers are on the wane. But the player affectionately nicknamed "Goldenballs" by his wife Victoria, the former Spice Girl, offers so much more.

Brand Beckham is often bandied about but it is clear that the name of the most famous footballer on the planet sells. He was the first male to appear on the cover of the UK women's magazine Elle, such is his appeal. And the Beckham effect was felt the moment he was announced as a Galaxy player, with the club enjoying a peak of 11,000 season ticket holders and selling a record 250,000 jerseys before he had even kicked a ball.

His opening match was a who's who of Hollywood A-listers. Tom Cruise, a close family friend now, was in the stands along with Arnold Schwarzenegger. And others to have become friends with the Beckhams during his stint Stateside include the rapper Snoop Dogg.

When he arrived in the US, it was claimed by his manager, Simon Fuller, who had uncovered the Spice Girls, that the US deal was worth US$250 million (Dh918m) .

Playing wise, it was far from that - thought to be a $6.5m-a-year deal - but he picked up endorsements thought to be worth more than $40m a year, including $5m for just four days' work in Japan at the start of his American sojourn.

Such deals have enabled him to buy a $20m Beverly Hills mansion, a Georgian mansion in the UK known as "Beckingham Palace", which the couple bought for $4m in 1999, and a Napa Valley vineyard, as well as two homes in Dubai, one on Palm Island, the other in Burj Khalifa.

But despite his wealth he recently said: "My career has never been about the money. Wherever I've gone I played the sport as I love it. It was never about the money, and it never will be."

His love of football has never waned. The son of a kitchen fitter, Ted, and hairdresser, Sandra - his parents divorced 10 years ago - he was immersed into a family passionate about football. Both parents were Manchester United fans and, from an early age, their son made it clear he only had one ambition.

"At school, whenever teachers asked: 'What do you want to do when you're older?' I'd say: 'I want to be a footballer', and they'd say: 'No, what do you really want to do for a job?' But that was the only thing I ever wanted to do."

After trials at Leyton Orient, Norwich and Tottenham, he eventually signed on with Manchester United on his 14th birthday. Three years later, he was part of the team that won the Youth Team Cup, a line-up that included the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

It wasn't until the 1996-97 season that he properly forced his way into the starting line-up. At the time, former Liverpool defender-turned-pundit Alan Hansen said: "You can't win anything with kids", referring to a Man U side awash with upcoming players, among them Beckham.

That season, they won the English domestic league and cup double, beginning a remarkable run of success for the midfielder. Beckham won a Premier League winners' medal in five of the ensuing seven seasons, as well as another FA Cup.

But the most notable success was in the 1999 Champions League final in which United produced the unlikeliest of comebacks with two injury-time goals - both started from Beckham corners - for a 2-1 win over Bayern Munich.

The relationship with the team's manager, Alex Ferguson, was, for the most part, a good one. The Scot would praise the player for his tireless work rate both in training and matches, which made him a firm Old Trafford favourite.

Things began to sour in the early 2000s not long after his marriage to Victoria in the summer of 1999.

"He was never a problem until he got married," Ferguson later said. "Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing. He is such a big celebrity, football is only a small part."

Throughout that time, he was able to make headlines for the right and wrong reasons. From a goal from his own half against Wimbledon to his latest hairstyle or wearing a skirt on holiday, he was front-page news from the moment he and his future wife met at a Man U game in 1997.

The relationship with Ferguson hit breaking point when the manager kicked a boot in the dressing room in anger that hit Beckham's face and resulted in stitches. Publicly at least, they healed the rift but, at the end of the season, Beckham moved to Real Madrid following 85 goals in 394 appearances for the English club.

By that stage, he had long been England captain, but he also hit headlines in international football for the wrong and right reasons. He was vilified nationally and blamed for England's 1998 World Cup exit following his red card for a kick on Argentina's Diego Simeone.

One national tabloid printed a dartboard with a picture of him on the bullseye while a London pub hung an effigy of the player outside. He even received death threats.

The irony is that such vilification is long in the past and Beckham has become a national treasure, exemplified by the role he played in carrying the Olympic Torch to the opening ceremony earlier this year.

Internationally, though, he never enjoyed the same success as at club level, despite playing 115 times, the most capped English outfield player in history, and captaining England on 59 occasions. He emotionally resigned from the post after another unsuccessful tournament, the 2006 World Cup, during which he scored his 17th and final international goal.

Club-wise after the Premier League, he became one of the galacticos (superstars) at Real alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Luis Figo. There, under all manner of coaches, he became a cult figure. While the likes of Zidane dazzled with his footballing skills, Beckham was revered for his work rate and contribution to the team, efforts that were rewarded with a league title in 2007.

It was that attitude that eventually won over the fans in Los Angeles. Initially, he was welcomed but two loan moves to AC Milan, one of which saw him injured for virtually the entire Major League Soccer season, had him fall out of favour with the crowd. When he did play, he was greeted with banners such as "go home, fraud" and "part-time player", and even argued with one fan after he badmouthed Victoria.

But his hard work eventually won the fans over, contributing to two MLS Cup wins, the second of which took place this past weekend.

Yet there remain questions of whether it was a success. Beckham may privately harbour some regret on not staying at Real, signing for the Galaxy before he had won his first-team place back. But for the MLS, it has certainly been beneficial, with average attendances across the division rising to 3,500 per match and team franchises growing from 13 to 19 during his time there.

What is clear is that he is now a household name in the US, as he already is all over the world. His every move there has been and will remain in the spotlight, along with his wife and children: Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz and Harper. Their father remains remarkably down to earth despite the renown, even through negative headlines and accusations of affairs, which he has denied.

Even now, he admits the fame is still hard for him to grasp despite having friends such as Prince William and Elton John. But through it all, he has never let the pressure get to him, at least openly, as observed by the former footballer Jurgen Klinsmann, himself a resident of the United States: "Beckham is remarkable. He handles celebrity without letting it affect his football in any way. He has become a better player despite all the pressures of the media and of his lifestyle. He manages to remain a calm and decent man, and a terrific footballer."

 

The Biog

 

May 2, 1975 Born in London

May 1989 Signs terms with Manchester United

April 1995 Makes Premier League debut for Man U

May 1996 Wins Premier League and FA Cup double

September 1996 Makes England debut

1999 Wins Champions League as well as Premier League and FA Cup

July 1999 Marries Victoria

November 2000 Named England captain

May 2003 Wins sixth Man U Premier League title

July 2003 Joins Real Madrid in £25m deal

June 2007 Wins La Liga with Real Madrid

December 2012 Wins second MLS Cup in LA