In the mid-nineties there was talk of a rich crop of young English talent coming through at Manchester United - and David Beckham's name was bandied around with the likes of Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville. But Beckham really announced himself to the football-watching public on 17th August 1996 with a special strike from the half way line against Wimbledon.
Beckham hit the ball with his right foot in the smooth, elegant style that would later become his trademark. It would have been a great goal if he was striking towards an empty net, but the fact that the opposition goalkeeper was just a few yards off his line made it all the more impressive.
The goal was a feat of execution, but perhaps more staggering was Beckham's willingness to take the shot in the first place. As a young man playing for one of England's biggest clubs, the attempt was risky. It could have made him look foolish and arrogant. The ball could have bounced tamely into the goalkeeper's arms or gone harmlessly wide of the target. But Beckham was rewarded for his bravery when the ball sailed whiskers under the crossbar and into the back of the Wimbledon net. His career took off from there.
The Sun has led the tributes to David Beckham today, with coverage on the front and back pages and a special 12-page pull-out supplement. It's easy to forget how the same newspaper treated Beckham when he was sent off playing for England against Argentina in the quarter finals of the World Cup in 1998.
When the chance came to finally redeem himself against Argentina, he blasted home a penalty for the only goal of the game. He demonstrated that the right attitude and hard work can see you through the most testing times
Early in the second half, with the game poised at 2-2, Beckham kicked out harmlessly but petulantly at the Argentina midfielder Diego Simeone. Simeone tumbled to the floor and the referee had no hesitation in showing Beckham a red card. England, now down to ten men and with their backs against the wall, went on to produce a stirring performance and not only kept Argentina at bay but nearly snatched victory.
Alas, Sol Campbell's late headed goal was cruelly disallowed and England were eventually eliminated in a penalty shoot-out. The newspapers, particularly The Sun, had a field day to end all field days. Beckham was blamed for England's glorious defeat and became public enemy number one overnight.
Despite being booed at every away ground when the 1998/99 Premier League season started, Beckham kept plugging away for Manchester United, scoring and creating goals on a regular basis. By the time the next World Cup came around, Beckham was firmly established as the nation's footballing darling. When the chance came to finally redeem himself against Argentina during the group stages, he took it with aplomb. Becks blasted home a penalty for the only goal of the game and, in so doing, demonstrated that the right attitude and a hard work ethic can see you through the most testing times.
In the final qualification game for the 2002 World Cup England were playing against Greece to secure their place in the finals. A draw would do the trick as long as Germany didn't win their final group match against Finland. Inexplicably, England produced a lacklustre performance and were losing 2-1 going into the final twenty minutes of the game.
Beckham, playing as captain on his home ground Old Trafford, knew England were having an off day and raised his game accordingly. He was everywhere: chasing down and tackling opponents, receiving the ball from the back and leading attacks, taking throw-ins, taking corners, shooting at every opportunity. It seemed that every time you looked at the screen, Becks was on it.
Still, the goal wouldn't come. Going into injury time, Germany had missed a series of gilt-edged chances and Finland had somehow held them to a goalless draw. England knew one goal would be enough and Beckham had one final chance to get it with a free-kick just outside the penalty area. He'd missed a few from similar positions throughout the afternoon but this one he executed to perfection, sending a dipping, spinning ball into the top corner of the goal, beating the frozen Greek 'keeper and cueing rapturous celebrations from England's fans.
Despite an unremarkable team performance on the day, Becks had made the difference with firstly his tenacity and secondly a moment of inspiration. Sometimes that's what's required.
It might seem harsh to say, but David Beckham was by no means one of the best footballers ever. It's true that he had a wonderful right foot and excellent technical ability, but he was not quick and he lacked the genuine guile and artfulness that is common to all the great players of the game.
Becks didn't have half the talent of, say, Zinedine Zidane - but he retired probably around 20 times richer than the French magician.
It's true that you can't achieve very much without a lot of hard work and a genuine emotional investment in what you do - but nothing should come at the expense of happiness and your responsibilities away from business
It's true that Zidane and many others aren't blessed with Beckham's boyish charm, chiselled features and flowing blonde locks - and it's true that most footballers only have limited commercial opportunities. But Beckham showed the discipline to establish and maintain an image that allowed him to fully exploit these opportunities - and he reaped the rewards.
Most crucially, however, Becks was never distracted from his main business and the root of all his other revenue-generating opportunities: playing football. Without that, the other streams could very easily have disappeared.
Balancing a healthy work-life balance is a key concern for most business people. It's true that you can't achieve very much without a lot of hard work and a genuine emotional investment in what you do - but nothing should come at the expense of happiness and your responsibilities away from business.
David Beckham has achieved phenomenal financial success in an era when footballers' wealth and the unruly behaviour it is assumed to predicate is regularly decried by an alienated and bitter public. And yet Becks, the richest and best looking footballer of the lot, retires from the game and prompts an outpouring of respect and good will.
This is as much to do with football as it is because Beckham has always stayed grounded, has never let success go to his head, has always had the ability to laugh at himself and has always been fully committed to his ever-growing family. In the eyes of the public, he leaves the game as a good player, a good husband, a good father and a good bloke.
Kevin is the Brand Communications Manager at Make It Cheaper, so he makes sure people know who we are, what we do and how we do it. He's from a family of small business owners (his dad runs a chippy, mum a dancing school, uncle a scaffolding company, auntie a fancy dress shop), so he's passionate about making it easier for customers to run their businesses. He spends lots of his time making our letters and emails easy to understand, nice to look at and a pleasure to read. You can email Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org
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