Sky Sports analyst Gary Neville was with David Beckham in the Manchester United youth team, and the both of them went on to win the Champions League in the 1999 treble- winning class of United players.
Both friends were together on Wednesday afternoon, in a suite at Le Bristol Hotel in Paris discussing the moment the 38- year- old ex- England captain decided it was time to quit after 20 years at the top.
Beckham has played 9 times for Paris St Germain and could play two more games before his retirement- against Brest on Friday and then Lorient next week Sunday. He joked that the moment Lionel Messi dazzled past him during PSG’s Champions League tie against Barcelona in the Parc des Princes stadium on April 2, was the moment reality dawned on him and he must have thought about retirement for the first time that moment.
“Probably when Messi was running past me (laughs) in that home game! No… when did I feel…? I actually don’t know. I just feel that I’ve been so lucky throughout my career,” Beckham said.
A distinctive feature of Beckham’s glittering career was his trade- mark free- kick, which gave birth to the famous phrase ‘bend it like Beckham’ and even became the title of a Bollywood movie. The Englishman has always left a mark wherever he plays, going on to win the league in four different countries.
With the exclusion of AC Milan, Beckham has always moved from one league to another after winning at least, one league title; a feat not many football players achieve. For many who couldn’t ‘bend it like Beckham,’ would have loved to ‘end it like Beckham.’
But that as well suggests the level of football the ex- Real Madrid midfielder had coped with in the last 22 years. From a shy looking Manchester United youth team player to being the most sophisticated football figure all around the world, Beckham ‘thinks’ he’s ‘ready’ to quit.
“I think it’s every athlete’s dream. Every footballer’s dream- to go out on top. On top form or winning a trophy. It doesn’t happen that often. I’ve been lucky. Obviously, when I left United we won the league. When I left Madrid we won the league,” Beckham noted.
“Like you said, leaving the LA Galaxy, doing two years of winning the championship there, and then obviously coming here and winning the league. It’s nice to go out like that. I think people look back and it’s written. It’s simple. You’re leaving as a champion. I think that’s why I think it’s the right time.
“I think over the years, when I’ve seen players retire, when you ask them about it, they always say you’ll know when you’re ready. And I think, I know when I’m ready, I think I’m ready. Obviously it’s a difficult decision, because I still feel that I can play at the top level, and still have done for the last six months.
“But I always secretly said to myself that I want to go out at the top. And if you’d have said to me eight months ago I’d be playing in the French league, winning the French Cup- winning the league- and finishing like this, I would have probably said, absolutely no chance. But I was given the opportunity to come to PSG and I just feel now is the right time.”
Compared with the level of football Beckham was involved in, the footballer did manage to stay out of the scandals associated with sportsmen at that level. Not any you could easily recall. However, during and after his heydays, he had triggered the most expensive and talked- about deals in football, creating a class of superstar sportsman.
From the numbers of jerseys sold when he moved to Real Madrid to been encouraged to try out Hollywood movies, his brand got paid, wherever! He has a five year contract with Sky Sports to support their Living for Sport campaign, working as an ambassador and an advisor. The former United, Real, Milan, LA Galaxy, PSG and England midfielder has also taken on a role in China to help develop the game. Beckham is committed to the whole world as a UNICEF ambassador and there is an open invitation from the FA to work with them to help develop English football.
“I just want people to see me as a hard- working footballer. Someone that’s passionate about the game. Someone that, every time I stepped on the pitch, I’ve given everything that I have, because that’s how I feel,” the 38- year- old added.
“Going into games at the end of my career, that’s how I look back on it and hope people will see me. Because I think, over the years, it’s been my life and my career. People have obviously looked at certain other things that have gone on throughout my career, and I think sometimes that’s overshadowed what I’ve done on the pitch and what I’ve achieved on the pitch.
“As much as I say that doesn’t hurt me, of course it does. At the end of the day I’m a footballer who has played at some of the biggest football clubs in the world. Played with some of the best players in the world. Played under some of the biggest and best managers, and achieved almost everything in football.”
Beckham played with world class footballers like Ronaldo de Lima, Zinedine Zidane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Zlatan Ibrahimovich, just to name a few of the world best players. He has also played under Fabio Capello, Carlo Ancelotti and of course the man who took charge of the fledgling young talent, Sir Alex Ferguson.
He is the only Englishman to score in three World Cups, namely: France 98, Korea- Japan 2002 and Germany 2006. His total England caps of 115 is only second to Peter Shilton’s 125 and made 718 career club appearances for six teams, scoring 129 goals.
Suffice to say, he is the richest sportsman in the whole of Britain, with a net worth fortune of £165 million, excluding his wife’s £35 million. The father of four remains in a class of his own, even after retirement.