Friday, June 5, 2009
Tribute to David Beckham
David Beckham is without question the most famous footballer of all time. No, he didn't make it all that way because of his football, but the records he has broken on the pitch are testament enough to his understated, world class ability.
Having grown up as a Manchester United fan, Beckham made his way up from east London to Old Trafford as a youth and came through the ranks along with the likes of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes - all three of whom are still at the club.
Beckham went the way of Phil Neville and Nicky Butt, but of course, on a much grander scale. He ended up leaving the club after his super stardom got the better of Sir Alex Ferguson, but it wasn't before he made his mark as one of the best players in the world at the time.
He had stiff competition, and his style was far from conventional, but he made it work. A winger without pace, what Beckham possessed that few then and few now can match was an ability to pick a pass - or more often, a cross - of any range and with immaculate precision. The role of a playmaker in the position of a winger left many a little more than confused, but the bottom line is, was and always will be that he is the best at what he does. With Beckham on the pitch, goals are an inevitability. You can't put a price on that.
Ten years at United yielded six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, an Intercontinental Cup and most famously, the Champions League. Beckham's form in that treble-winning season was majestic. Not only did two of his corners set up 'those two' goals in the final against Bayern Munich, but all along the way, he created key goals, and scored a few, as well.
That incredible season, in which he was unfortunate to miss out on the Ballon d'Or to Rivaldo, came following a summer in which he had been demonised by the nation for his red card at the 1998 World Cup against Argentina. A kick out at Diego Simeone remains arguably his all-time low moment on the pitch, but one for which he made amends in the form of years of superb service to his country thereafter, including a six-year spell as captain.
The treble didn't prove to be a peak for Beckham, who continued to perform and had a couple more outstanding seasons with the Red Devils until an injury lay-off, followed by his being replaced in the starting XI by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. This led to tensions between himself and Sir Alex re-emerging, culminating with the infamous 'flying boot', kicked by Ferguson that struck Beckham above the eye and left a cut requiring stitches. It was, of course, a freak accident - but it signalled the beginning of the end of Beckham's time at his boyhood club.
Despite United being eager to sell to Barcelona, and new president Joan Laporta having to instead opt for a certain Ronaldinho (who was a United target, and they instead had to opt for Cristiano Ronaldo), Beckham wound up at Madrid. He followed Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo as yet another Galactico, though deemed superlative by many, did perform well at the Bernabeu.
He was maligned, particularly in his homeland, for 'selling out' and his performances as an individual were overlooked due to the steady demise of what had been a great team at Madrid. An unbelievable end-of-season collapse in 2003-04 denied Los Galacticos what one and all believed to be a certain Liga title, if not the Champions League to match. It was all downhill from there. Almost.
On the international stage, Beckham resigned as captain with tears in his eyes after the 2006 World Cup elimination at the hands of Portugal. This led to Steve McClaren, who succeeded Sven-Goran Eriksson as coach, to controversially axe Beckham from the squad altogether.
Back in Madrid, when Fabio Capello arrived at the Bernabeu to end the three-year silverware drought, he did so sparing no egos and Beckham, controversially, was dropped. With his contract running down and his country having rejected him he made the decision to sign for LA Galaxy, resulting in Don Fabio publicly announcing that he would not pick him for the remainder of the season.
It was a grudge held by one of the best managers in the business out of bitterness that, instead of fighting to get his place back in the team, Beckham instead chose to head into what many called 'semi-retirement'. Fergie had resented Victoria Beckham and her influence on David's professional life, and now it was Capello's turn.
This time, however, Beckham won the battle. He convinced the stubborn Italian to change his mind as things got desperate in the Spanish capital, and lo and behold, Beckham produced some of the form of his life to star in Madrid's incredible comeback Liga triumph.
He left a hero, but his time in America was hampered by injury and an incredibly poor team that was nowhere near competing for silverware. That being said, desperate times under McClaren called for desperate measures from McClaren. Just like Capello, he called on Beckham to save his ailing side, but he wasn't so fortunate. As usual, Beckham racked up crucial assists, but it was too little, too late as England humiliatingly failed to qualify for Euro 2008.
Beckham, as a player, was reborn. Capello, fresh from the sack at Madrid (yes, despite winning the title - that's another long story) was appointed England boss. A guarantor of success, one of Don Fabio's first orders of business, once Beckham reached an appropriate level of fitness, was to bring him into his squad. Golden Balls has since broken the all-time caps record for an outfield England player, with one eye on Peter Shilton's record of 125, which he is 16 appearances from breaking.
He has continued to be the endless supply line of goals we have known him to be, and motivated by his desire to carry on playing, he controversially turned his back on the Galaxy in his quest to sign for AC Milan. The Rossoneri loaned him, at 35 years of age, and he starred in their quite scintillating end to the 2008-09 season.
Able to thrive at the slower pace of Serie A, Beckham is now angling to make this move permanent. He has returned to Galaxy for the summer but will be back at San Siro, and back in England colours, and knowing his career as it has gone so far, will confound all his critics before he finishes.
So much more can and should be said about David Beckham. For all his celebrity, and the painstaking analysis of his every wrongdoing, Beckham has been able to persistently maintain his professionalism, consistency, success and unique, world class ability for over a decade. He really has managed to have it all, and that doesn't happen by accident.
Premier League: 1995–96, 1996–97, 1998–99, 1999–00, 2000–01, 2002–03
FA Cup: 1996, 1999
UEFA Champions League: 1998–99
Intercontinental Cup: 1999
Community Shield: 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997
FA Youth Cup: 1992
La Liga: 2006–07
Supercopa de Espana: 2003
PFA Young Player of the Year: 1996-97
Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year: 1996-97
1998 FIFA World Cup Team of the Tournament
UEFA Club Player of the Year: 1999
BBC Sports Personality of the Year: 2001
ESPY Award - Best Male Soccer Player: 2004
ESPY Award - Best MLS Player: 2008
English Football Hall of Fame: 2008