David Beckham: Soccer and Spice | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerDavid Beckham: Soccer and Spice

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013 | 04:19 PM

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David Beckham wasn’t the greatest soccer player of his generation, but he made a lasting impact on the sport. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) David Beckham wasn’t the greatest soccer player of his generation, but he made a lasting impact on the sport. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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His brand is global, his appeal universal. He sparked debate and polarized opinion. But underneath the gloss, David Beckham was, first and foremost, a very good footballer.
I don't care how many boatloads of boxers he sold. I'm not interested in the volume of fragrances bought because his name was on the bottle.
 
His brand is global, his appeal universal. He sparked debate and polarized opinion. But underneath the gloss he was, first and foremost, a very good footballer.
 
Forget the celebrity, the hype, the commercialism, the hairstyles and the tattoos. They were all by-products of David Beckham's talent. He made the most of it, endured his share of adversity, and emerged a winner. With one exception, he achieved everything he set out to do on the soccer field before announcing his plans to retire.
 
We loved him, we hated him and then we loved him again. Ultimately, whether we liked or loathed him, we respected him as a player and as a passionate captain of his country.
 
The highlight (and lowlight) reel is easily recalled. That stunning goal from the halfway line to announce himself in 1996; that infamous red card against Argentina in 1998; that free kick to get England to the World Cup in 2001 and retribution against the South Americans the following year.
 
Beckham was not the greatest player of his generation. Zidane, Figo and Ronaldinho were succeeded by the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Kaka. He was simply not in that class but the spotlight was never far away from the English midfielder.
 
But he had a gift that changed games. They even made a film about it. There's a reason it was called "Bend it Like Beckham". He became a master of his art and a deadly opponent, particularly on free kicks around the edge of the penalty area.
 
He was more than just a one-trick pony. The dead ball situations became his trademark, of course, but Beckham always had an alert football brain. His inbuilt radar, to anticipate offensive moves, rarely let him down and his range of passing produced countless chances and assists over the years.
 
His talent was only topped by his passion. A born competitor, Beckham was never more pumped or primed than when leading his country. His appointment as England captain was not a role which sat easily at first, raising many eyebrows in the media and among the fans.
 
Beckham took the responsibility seriously. While continuing to work on his game he also went to work on his media skills. In common with most of us, Beckham will never become a rocket scientist, but the shy, ill-educated Londoner bloomed into a polished performer who helped Great Britain land the 2012 Olympics in his hometown.
 
As a global superstar he conquered America. As a professional soccer backwater, the U.S. needed conquering and Beckham was the only name that could move the needle. His presence elevated the profile, cache and importance of Major League Soccer.
 
Beckham sold tickets and moved merchandise. More significantly, he paved the way for his peers to follow. Players who had previously sneered at MLS began to consider it a destination. Angel, Henry, Marquez, Keane and Frings are just a few who followed Beckham's pioneering pathway.
 
Few players can match Beckham's resilience. From deaths threats to ruptured ligaments, he made a career of bouncing back. Living life in a media bubble, self-induced or otherwise, has its pros and cons but Beckham grew a thick skin and arose unscathed and smiling.
 
England, Spain, America and France all said farewell to a winner. As a professional for 20 years he must have been doing something right. Overrated? Overpaid? Self-obsessed? Sure -- if you say so. You and I will have to agree to disagree.

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