For football fans who grew in the 1990s and 2000s, David Beckham left a deep impact in the way they viewed ‘the beautiful game’. That of course, was before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo burst onto the scene and displayed consistency levels and a quest for greatness that was almost never witnessed during the past century.
During Beckham’s peak years, between 1996-’06, Brazil’s deadly trio of Luis Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, France’s Zinedine Zidane, Italy’s Francesco Totti, Portugal’s Luis Figo, etc. were recognised as better all-round players.
Even his long-time Manchester United teammates and childhood friends Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were more dynamic with their impact. But Beckham’s greatness lies in the way he held his own on a football field.
The Englishman first attracted fame after scoring an outrageous chip from the half-way against Wimbledon in 1995. The Londoner went from strength-to-strength from there, becoming one of the crucial components of ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’, the class of the 1992 batch of United graduates, most of whom went on to become world-class footballers.
He never had express pace, wasn’t great on his weaker foot and was an average header of the ball at best. Where he lacked in skill, he more than made it up with his exemplary work-rate and leadership skills; Beckham spent his best years of international football as the captain of England. Then, there was the right foot, which produced moments of magic that were tailor-made for a YouTube highlights reel.
His free-kicks had a wicked curl that would leave the best of goal-keepers flat-footed. Despite popular opinion, ‘Golden Balls’ had a good variety and could find the roof of the net even from 35-40 yards out. He would meet his match at Real Madrid later in his career, though, playing alongside equally formidable dead-ball takers in Zidane, Figo and Roberto Carlos.
His crosses from the right flank were the ones strikers could only dream of. Just ask Ruud van Nistelrooy and Michael Owen, the players he had a near-telepathic understanding for club and country respectively. Beckham’s fortitude was something that earned him tremendous acclaim from the people he worked with. In 2003, after Ferguson had dropped him to the bench, Beckham nearly dragged United to an improbable victory after coming on in the tie against Real Madrid.
After incurring the wrath of the English public following his sending off in the epic round of 16 clash against Argentina in the World Cup, Beckham was at the heart of United’s charge of their historic treble win in the 1998-’99 season. After then Madrid manager Fabio Capello had shut the door on Beckham in 2006-’07, he made a comeback in the business end of the season, taking Los Blancos to their first league title win in four seasons.
One of Beckham’s finest moments in international football came at a familiar venue in Old Trafford. England were trailing Greece by a goal and needed a point from the game to book their place in the 2002 World Cup. Up steps Beckham to thump the ball in the top corner. But he truly exorcised the ghosts from Saint-Etienne four years earlier when he took the penalty that would defeat Argentina in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup.
Away from the field, Beckham was an industry. He, along with wife Victoria, have always been subject to intense scrutiny from the shutterbugs from the time they starting dating, back in the mid-1990s. His popularity transcended continents and brought new fans to the game. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he could have stood toe-to-toe with any Hollywood star at the time, and perhaps, one of the most popular sportspersons in the modern era. We are closing on a decade since Beckham hung up his boots but his legacy lives on.
Watch the best moments of David Beckham here: