David Beckham has announced his plans to retire from football at the end of the season, aged 38.
The English footballing icon and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder began his career as 16 year old signing his first professional contract for Manchester United where he would spend the decade to follow, making his name as the most famous footballer in the world.
Beckham made 394 appearances for the Red Devils, scoring 85 goals and winning six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and one Champions League title as part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s golden generation alongside the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, who broke through the youth ranks at United within a year of each other.
However, as Beckham became a bigger and bigger name, his star shone almost too brightly and eclipsed that of his teammates – he married Victoria Adams of the Spice Girls and the couple were catapulted to international stardom, a fascination of the British press and the ‘it’ couple of their generation throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Despite Beckham’s obvious talents and undeniable value to the club, Sir Alex Ferguson’s relationship with Beckham became untenable as the player became a bigger news story than the club.
In 2003, Beckham was sold to Real Madrid for €35 million where he went on to win the La Liga title and the Supercopa de Espana but after four years in the Spanish capital, the lure of lucrative personal gains to be made Los Angeles beckoned.
There is no doubt David Beckham’s career has been one of success and glory but I wonder whether, in retrospect, he might wonder what could have been had he remained at the club that made him the player he is.
His former teammates Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are regarded as greats in their own right but their ability as footballers was never outshone by their personal lives or their public profiles. Scholes, especially, is hailed as one of the greatest midfielders to ever play the game despite his shyness in the spotlight.
Beckham’s commercial interests, along with his wife’s, have tended to inform his decision-making, rather than his football, in his career. Had he have remained at Manchester United, he would likely not be the global superstar and brand that he has become but he would likely have been regarded as one of the greatest players in the game, rather than the most famous.
His move to Paris Saint-Germain on deadline day of the January transfer window this year is an apt example of the public relations manoeuvres that have always taken top priority – his name and his face is valued higher than his ability as a professional footballer and has been for many years now.
I doubt his bank manager would agree but, had David Beckham stayed at Manchester United and retired at Old Trafford with his mates, he would likely have been regarded as one of greatest English footballers in the history of the game.
Instead, he retires as the most rich and famous footballer of all time but, alas, brand Beckham just couldn’t be sold to Sir Alex Ferguson of brand Manchester United.