David Beckham, with his floppy hair and unassuming ways, was an instant success at Manchester United.
A lifelong United fan, who had made the journey from the south with his dad to attend our games at Old Trafford, with an ability that stood out from the rest from a young age.
Aged 11, Beckham won the Bobby Charlton Soccer Schools National Skills Final and was our mascot in a match against West Ham that same year. He signed schoolboy forms with United five years later and made his United first team début the following year, before even signing professional terms with the club.
We all know what he won and the things he achieved with us following on from then, most notably the success of the 1999 season, where he played an active and crucial role.
As Ryan Giggs claimed his tenth league title last season and his second European Cup Winner’s medal, I wonder how Beckham felt. Obviously very happy that his boyhood team were on top again, but I’m sure there had to be pangs of jealousy and regret. How different things might have been…
The story goes that Sir Alex Ferguson forced David Beckham out of the club, but that quite simply isn’t true. Whilst the break down of his relationship with Ferguson might have been the final straw, Beckham’s head was elsewhere, long before that football boot came flying at it.
Whilst agreeing on a wage early on in contract negotiations, Beckham and the club couldn’t settle on what should be paid to him in image rights. He was setting out his stall as one of the most iconic footballers in the World, a superstar in his own right, married to a Spice Girl with every product going wanting his endorsement. Maybe United didn’t offer him enough or maybe Beckham wanted too much, but it’s by the by now. An agreement couldn’t be made, despite 18 months of talks, and Beckham was out of there.
You can blame Ferguson’s stubbornness or you can point to Beckham’s greed, but essentially, ol Becks was in a trying position, one which he might have handled differently now, knowing what he does about the five years that have followed since leaving Old Trafford. It had all gone to his head and he got too big for his boots. If United weren’t going to bend over backwards and give him everything he wanted, another club would. That club was Real Madrid.
It was only his last season with the Spanish club that he won anything, after being benched for chunks of the season by Fabio Capello. He rejected a contract extension in the January, opting instead to sign for LA Galaxy. Capello claimed Beckham had played his last game for Real and it appeared as though his playing career might as well be over. The MLS? What the….?
Beckham hasn’t allowed himself to go dead and buried though. Capello started playing Beckham again in February and he enjoyed a great spell on the pitch, before claiming the La Liga title on the last day of the season. He has prolonged his International career, joining an exclusive club with just four other men in claiming 100 caps for England.
Then, just to really resurrect himself, Beckham joined AC Milan. Can you imagine having Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan on your playing CV? The man who fancied himself as a bit of a superstar in his 20’s has certainly had the career to back it up, hair product and felt tip pens advertising aside.
He scored his first goal for AC Milan on Sunday in his new club’s 4-1 win over Bologna, and despite what LA Galaxy might want, may be spending more time in Italy.
“I can’t say what will happen,” said Beckham. “Even if my contract says that I’ll be here until March, we’ll have to see. At the moment I’m enjoying this experience. I’m at one of the biggest clubs in the world. And having won gives us confidence to continue. It’s special to play for Milan and it’s great to score my first goal – I will keep this jersey. But it’s more important the team won and we played well.”
Milan are currently third in their league, six points behind local rivals Inter, meaning a Serie A title is not out of reach for him.
There will be few, if any, who will get to enjoy such a varied, yet high profile and successful, footballing career as Beckham. It’s just a shame, from a United perspective, that not all the years of his brilliant career have been spent at Old Trafford.
The word ‘legend’ is batted about a lot, but when he does finally choose to hang up his boots, this word will be a fitting description for him. David Beckham, I salute you.