At the turn of the millennium, a soft drink giant came up with an advert in BengaliBoro testa, Manchesta (Very thirsty for Manchester United). David Beckham featured most prominently in that campaign, making others mere sideshows. United had just won the Treble and Beckham became the teams poster boy.
The Treble was won at Fergie-time. Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich. Both the goals were scored from corners delivered by Beckham and rather than the scorers, the man who provided the assists received more applause. In fact, it was almost always the case when he was around. He was a man who outshone his sport.
Beckham was the George Best of his generation. Both wore number 7 at United, though talent-wise, Beckham was never even close to his predecessor. Best could do anything with a football and always carried a high glamour quotient. He was the fifth Beatle.
Beckham was a tireless worker on the pitch but his real mastery was basically restricted to set-pieces. By the time he started to grow in stature, the world had become a global village. Premier League came to the living room, thanks to the rise and proliferation of satellite TV channels and the Internet. English football was searching for a face to market its most high-profile competition. Beckham perfectly fitted into the role. His lifestyle, marriage to Victoria (Posh Spice) and love of the limelight added to his cult. His free kicks and corners provided the oomph factor. He became the games biggest global brand.
Manchester United youth team coach Eric Harrison was privileged to have a golden bunch of young talents under his watch. The group had Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Beckham. Soon, they were inducted into the first team and started to flourish under Alex Ferguson. Beckham was not a genius like Scholes, nor did he have the wizardry of Giggs. But he compensated that with his work-rate and passion.
Beckham has had a special career. Someone who has won five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, one La Liga and a Champions League has to be an extraordinary player. He played for England 115 times, led his country in two World Cups and made match-winning contributions. His last-minute goal from a free kick against Greece in 2002, which took England to the World Cup finals, was one of the brightest moments of his career. Also, the goal he scored against Wimbledon in the Premier League in 1996-97, when he chipped the goalkeeper from his own half, made him a star from a promising youngster.
The low point came in 1998 when Beckham became a hate figure in his country after the World Cup. He was dismissed for kicking Argentinas Diego Simeone as England went out of the Cup. His effigies were burnt. 10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy, ran a header. Without his managers support and guidance, he might have faded away.
Falling out with Ferguson and leaving United in 2004, following the infamous bootgate, was perhaps his biggest mistake. A boyhood United fan, he should have ended his career at Old Trafford in front of 75,000 fans. He went to Real Madrid and won La Liga. But away from home, he started to lose his charm. Its an irony that the games biggest global ambassador would be playing his last match across the Channel for a club (Paris Saint-Germain) that doesnt have too many global followers.
Beckham was not a great footballer, though he flirted with greatness at times. But his impact went beyond the playing arenas. Beckham is perhaps the most loved sportsman in the world. This is why he became the face of the London Olympics Committee. His popularity prompts the Chinese Football Association to invite him to become the countrys first international sports ambassador.
Little wonder then that tributes are flowing in after Beckham has announced his retirement. From the start you knew the quality he had and the professionalism. His range of passing and free kicks were brilliant and that was no accident. He was out there, practising all day long, said Scholes.
Britains Prime Minister David Cameron and Fifa president Sepp Blatter also joined a host of managers and his former teammates to praise his contribution.
In his statement, Beckham said he always wanted to go out on top. I always secretly said to myself that I want to go out at the top. Maybe, he is not quite spot-on here. He walked to semi-retirement when he decided to join LA Galaxy in 2007. He is long past his sell-by date as far as top flight football is concerned. But he remained a global superstar.
It is unlikely that Brand Beckham will lose its charm