With 108 caps, David Beckham is England’s most capped outfield player of all time. The style icon has been in the public eye for over a decade, and is considered by many to be ‘the player’ of a generation. Appearing for Manchester United, Real Madrid, A.C Milan and L.A Galaxy, with another move on the horizon, Beckham has been able to travel all over the globe, becoming one of the world’s most well-known figures in the process. Beckham’s footballing ability has never been in doubt; however, with only one last move seemingly possible for him, the question begins to circulate, ‘Is Beckham being brought for footballing reasons, or simply as a marketing tool?’
Since returning from his loan spell at Preston North End in 1995, Beckham endured a slow start to his United career, appearing only four times that campaign at the age of just 20. The following season was a huge season for Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson’s other young ‘fledglings’. Despite criticism for picking such young players, most notably from Alan Hansen, Ferguson maintained his selection policy. A decision which saw United go on to win the Premier League and F.A Cup double. Although Beckham failed to break into the Euro 1996 squad that summer, he started the 1996/97 season in style, with ‘that’ goal against Wimbledon, from the halfway line. This really seemed to signal Beckham’s arrival on the big stage, as United retained the Premier League trophy with Beckham winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award. The following season saw Beckham take over the number 7 jersey from Eric Cantona, as United finished behind Arsenal in the hunt for their third consecutive Premier League title. Beckham travelled to the World Cup on the back of this disappointment, having yet to force his way into the starting 11. Criticised by manager Glen Hoddle for not concentrating on the tournament, Beckham only started the final group game against Colombia, in which the world witnessed Beckham score a stunning free-kick, as his famous right foot began to attract admirers worldwide. The glory turned sour as Beckham saw red as England failed to progress past the second round, losing in a Penalty shootout to Argentina. Many people turned on Beckham, blaming him for England’s exit, making him public enemy number one. However it is the 1998/99 season that Beckham stepped up to the plate, producing scintillating form, as United secured the treble. As a result of his tremendous form, Beckham was named runner up to Rivaldo in the European Player of the Year award.
Ahead of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea, Beckham’s on pitch form was some of the best of his career; however, it was off the pitch where the problems began to circulate. The first incident arose when David and wife Victoria asked for permission from Sir Alex to take time off and care for new-born son Brooklyn who had been ill. Although his wish was granted by Ferguson, Victoria was then seen at London Fashion week on the same night, a move that infuriated the United manager. “He was never a problem until he got married. He used to go into work with the academy coaches at night time; he was a fantastic young lad. Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing – from that moment, his life was never going to be the same. He is such a big celebrity; football is only a small part” (Sir Alex Ferguson, 2007). Beckham was coincidentally fined two weeks wages, as his relationship with his manager began to diminish. After two consecutive Premier League titles wins, the World Cup was insight. The usual excitement that ensues in the summer was met with apprehension and doubt as recently appointed skipper Beckham, broke the infamous metatarsal bone in his foot; an injury that left Beckham in a race against time to make the finals.
Missing from April onwards, United also went on to miss Beckham’s influence as they finished runners-up to Arsenal in the race for the Premier League title. Partially fit and raring to go, Beckham captained England at his first major tournament in South Korea/Japan, in a group that featured, Sweden, Nigeria and Beckham’s personal rivals, Argentina. The highlight of an otherwise usual tournament for England saw Beckham smash home a penalty against Argentina to secure a 1-0 win, in a game that was being billed as Beckham’s own personal battle, a redemption of the 1998 sending off. As England, yet again, failed to make it past the quarter finals Beckham returned to Old Trafford after a torturous summer, that included little rest, as the his public popularity reached an all-time high. Unfit and exhausted, Beckham’s season got off to a slow start, as injury kept him out of the United side, with Ole–Gunnar Solskjaer keeping him at bay on the right side of midfield. As Sir Alex’s patience warred thin, his frustration boiled over, and the famous ‘boot to the face’ moment against Arsenal, left Beckham needing stitches and apparently a new club. United’s form increased dramatically as they won the league yet again. With the transfer circus once again apparent, United seemed keen to sell Beckham, with his suitors realising the potential of not only a world class footballer, but a top class financial asset. Beckham’s popularity world-wide had been obvious from his time in Korea/Japan, in which Beckham was treated like a king, proving a valuable market tool whilst he was over there. Beckham’s eventual new club were Real Madrid, after a deal with Barcelona collapsed, Beckham joined the Galactico’s for a reported fee of £25million.
Already, Beckham commanded numerous sponsorship deals, Brylcreem, Gillette, Pepsi and even his own fashion label. Alongside his obvious popularity, Beckham was able to be moulded into a marketing dream. Beckham was able to take the number 23 shirt, and turn into in to an iconic number, similar to the number 7, they have, and now will always be associated with ‘David Beckham’. Shirt sales alone in Spain were impressive, but the likes of Asia and America saw an overwhelming response to Beckham’s arrival, seemingly signalling the extensive heights the Beckham phenomenon had now reached. Millions of shirts were sold, and millions will continue to be sold, as part of the Beckham brand. His time in the Spanish capital was one of highs and lows, only winning two trophies in the four years he was at the club, playing under six managers along the way. As Beckham’s Madrid career came to an end, it was announced that he would be join MLS side, L.A Galaxy, with Beckham’s reported salary surpassing $250,000 a week.
Previous to Beckham’s American deal, ‘Forbes’ announced some remarkable figures, that showed a $600million increase in merchandise sales at Madrid in Beckham’s four year stay; These outstanding figures accounting for just one of the reasons behind L.A Galaxy’s move for Beckham. Competing in the previous two major tournaments, Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006, England failure to qualify for Euro 2008 saw Beckham dropped from the England squad, having stepped down as captain in 2006. Undeterred by criticism over his move to America, Beckham signed a 5 year deal, worth somewhere in the region of $32.5million, making him the best paid footballer ever, as he began his quest to promote and improve ‘soccer’ throughout America. Before Beckham’s official arrival, the number 23 shirt he chose yet again, sold up to 250,000 before he was even unveiled, with millions yet to be sold. Beckham’s first few months proved inconsistent as injuries took their toll, restricting the former England captain to a limited number of appearances. A loan move to AC Milan in the close season, enhanced Beckham’s reputation, as Milan pounced to secure the services of such a money maker, no sorry, ‘accomplished footballer’, as Beckham completed his move to Italy. In all fairness to Beckham, it is reported that Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti had wanted to make the English midfielder’s move permanent, but a deal could not be done. With one eye on the World Cup in South Africa and breaking back into the England fold, Beckham returned to L.A with a new found vigour, buoyed by his successful loan spell at Milan. However, Beckham’s return was greeted by bitterness from Galaxy fans, who labelled him a fraud and a part-time player. Despite this, Beckham went onto establish himself as captain, and anintegral part of the Galaxy set-up, losing in the final of MLS play-offs in apenalty shoot-out.
Another loan move to Milan beckoned for Beckham, with newly appointed manager Leandro taking him to the San Siro. Although Beckham was to appear regularly for Milan, and become England most capped outfield player in the process, the move ended on a sour note, as hopes of a place in Capello’s 23 man World Cup squad were ended with a ruptured Achilles that would keep Beckham out for six months. Although injured, Beckham travelled to the World Cup as part of the back-room staff, with his influence and presence deemed imperative by manager Capello. After a disappointing World Cup campaign, Beckham again returned to America, and completed his first full season with no loan interruptions in the states, winning the Shield Cup and coming runners-up in the Western Conference in the process.
As Beckham’s L.A Galaxy career comes to an end, he has made no desire to hide the fact that he wants to continue playing football, wherever it may be, announcing himself that he was surprised by the amount of interest in securing his services. The question that needs to be asked, at the age of 36, does Beckham really warrant a move to a top European club, such a PSG or Tottenham Hotspur? At the age of 36, and having played in America for the last year, are the rumours justified for a player in the twilight of his career? The debate is open as to whether or not top clubs should be looking at Beckham from a performance perspective or whether the economical aspect of ‘brand Beckham’ should be taken into consideration. Yes, Beckham will generate millions in merchandise revenue, however, what people tend to forget, as stereotypical and biased as it sounds, this is David Beckham.
Since his move to America, Beckham continued to put it high level performances, giving 110% in every game he has played, playing through injury and successfully completing two loan spells at Serie A giants AC Milan. For a player, who at the age of 36, not to have turned his back on International football, whilst playing on the other side of the world is admirable. Players in today’s current footballing society retire from International football when they’re no longer selected. For Beckham to work his way back into the England set up after being told he had no future sums up the player of a generation. PSG are the current favourite’s to secure Beckham’s service, having pre-ordered 20,000 Beckham shirts, which to me, seems pretty obvious as to why they are interested. Harry Redknapp on the other hand sees Beckham as an outstanding professional who can improve his current squad. Yes, he can improve the financial situation at a club with the millions created through merchandise, but even at the age of 36, David Beckham has one last move, I just hope he makes the right one.