David Beckham was the first modern-day footballer, a man who was gifted enough on the pitch to hit the heights of the international and world stage. But later in his career, he ended up being more influential and powerful off the pitch with his world-class business skills, charm, PR skills, good looks and professionalism that turned him into the most highly sought-after English-speaking athlete on the planet.
His shirt sales alone for clubs such as Paris Saint Germain, AC Milan, LA Galaxy, Real Madrid and Manchester United were jaw-dropping, reportedly raising £1 billion in shirt and boot sales throughout his career. Plus, his charity work was exemplary.
That’s not to take anything away from his performances on the pitch. While he’s nowhere near the top echelon of world footballers in the history of the game, David Beckham is arguably the best English footballer since Bobby Moore. While he wasn’t able to win a World Cup or European Championship for England, Beckham evolved his soccer skills during his career to become one of the best, if not the best ever, set-piece taker — whether it was from corners, free kicks or even non-set pieces such as inch-perfect crosses into the box. To me, that was his best asset. His perfection, as a result of thousands of hours of practice, was unrivaled.
While at Manchester United, he won 6 Premier League medals, 2 FA Cup trophies and 1 Champions League title. When he joined Real Madrid in 2003, David Beckham expanded his brand to an even more international audience where, despite a rocky career in Spain, he helped the club lift a La Liga trophy in his first of four seasons and significantly increased their merchandise sales.
In 2007, Beckham made the risky career move of joining Major League Soccer. His six years at LA Galaxy dramatically elevated the visibility of the league worldwide and initially increased ticket sales wherever Beckham played, but his impact on the American soccer scene has long been exaggerated. He certainly had an impact, but there is still a bitter taste among many soccer fans in America who felt that he, at times, placed more of a priority on loan appearances with AC Milan as well as ambassadorial work for the London Olympics and England World Cup bids over his playing career at the Galaxy.
Where he cannot be faulted is his patriotism and loyalty to the England national team, which — to me — was the one part of his career other than his early days at Manchester United where he continually put his priority on football first. His 115 caps for England set a record for the most number of caps for an outfield player. The only reservation was that he was unable to break the all-time record of 125 caps, held by goalkeeper Peter Shilton.