Former Manchester United icon David Beckham has retired from professional football.
As a kid growing up as a Manchester United supporter, David Beckham was my hero. He was the star of Manchester United. His reputation took off at the same time I was developing an interest in football and he wore the famous number 7 shirt. That shirt that legends like Robbo and Cantona wore. Beckham then became the most famous footballer on the planet. Such was his status, I always had that undying faith that David Beckham would win us the game on his own if we needed.
Being only around 12 years old at the time, when I discovered of his departure in the summer of 2003 I was naturally devastated. Part of me suspected after the infamous boot-kicking incident earlier in the season that a departure would be inevitable however I simply chose not to believe it. For all he has gone on to do after Manchester United, there is a part of me that still wonders what would’ve been had the youth product of the club gone on to be an part of the exclusive group of one club players.
Since Beckham left Manchester United I continued to follow his career. I tried to see my childhood hero play as much as I can, first for Real Madrid, then through his time in the MLS and then his return to Europe at PSG where he very generously donated any money he was being paid to charity. The move to the MLS happened when he was 32, still at an age to have something big to offer a top club. Two loan spells and 33 appearances for AC Milan in the period since proves that. It consequently boosted the credibility of the MLS as on both occasions, David Beckham could still cut it at a top European club despite plying his trade in America. The short spell at PSG displays that he could, even at the very end of his career, still cut it at the top. That quarter-back like performance vs Barcelona in the Champions League knockout rounds this season where he demonstrated his wonderful range of passing will live in the memory.
But did leaving Europe too early to play in the USA adversely affect how David Beckham will be remembered? How does his legacy compare against the crop of players he came up the youth ranks with?
David Beckham in terms of ability can be held in the highest regard. In the treble winning year he was the runner up for the Ballon d’Or and was also UEFA Club Footballer and Midfielder of the Year. He will without question be remembered fondly for his achievements for Manchester United. At Real Madrid he will be remembered as one of the Galacticos. Despite the Galacticos period returning only one league title, David Beckham was part of one of the finest collection of footballers which included Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo, Raul and Guti.
Having starred at arguably the two biggest football clubs on the planet, when his contract at Real Madrid was running out, any team would’ve taken him. Beckham, instead, chose to go to play in a league where the standard of football was underwhelming when compared to the top of the European game. Neville, Scholes and Giggs, in comparison, continued to or will continue to play at the top of the world game until the end of their respective careers. Other legends of the game, whether it be someone like Zinedine Zidane or a one club player like Paulo Maldini, have too continue playing at the very highest level until the end of their careers. David Beckham could’ve gone on to do the same too.
Nevertheless, he moved to the MLS wih the aim of raising the profile of ‘soccer’ in America and he has achieved that. Being the celebrity figure that he is, David Beckham has raised both the profile of the sport in North America and the profile of the MLS throughout the world. The MLS is a more competitive league now than when he moved and other high-profile footballers are following Beckham to the MLS, Thierry Henry being just one of many recent examples.
The mark he has made on the league will ultimately be one of his biggest legacies and with the intention of owning an MLS franchise in the future, his association with the MLS is not set to end. Developing football on a whole continent is an achievement that will be unique to David Beckham and although his career hasn’t gone in the fanciful way I’d imagined for my childhood hero, he will be able to look back and be proud of what he has achieved. He will be able to look back and feel justified in his decision to move to the LA Galaxy.