David Beckham is a name not unfamiliar to many. His profile sky-rocketed after that famous goal against Wimbledon in 1996, and since then he hasn’t looked back. As a Manchester United fan that came through the club’s academy as part of the ‘Class of ‘92’, Becks was living the dream at United until he was infamously sold to Real Madrid in 2003. Although he has no regrets, he does wish he could have spent his whole career at Manchester United.
His impact on football is unprecedented. He is the biggest name in football and without a doubt the most famous Manchester United player of the modern era, possibly of all time. Would he have achieved this level of fame, if he had broken through Norwich City’s academy for example? That’s no disrespect to Norwich but I feel there is a certain romanticism around United and in particular the ‘Class of ‘92’, that allowed them to achieve what they did, it just seems Beckham had no ceiling. His level of fame for someone who was pretty good at football is unparalleled.
His time with United lasted around 11 years, winning numerous Premier League titles, several FA Cups, and the UEFA Champions League, amongst more. The most famous collection of trophies being the treble that was won in 1999.
Beckham’s arguably greatest season as a footballer, not just as a United player, came in 1999, where he finished runner-up to Rivaldo in the European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year awards. During that season he was part of United’s arguably greatest midfield ever, that featured Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, and Paul Scholes.
On the pitch, what made Beckham so special? He was known for his range of passing, his crossing ability, and his set pieces. During the 1998-99 season, he played a critical part in United’s journey to triumph. Perhaps what writers and fans recognised was Beckham’s ability to consistently produce during the big moments in that season.
If you look at each ‘big’ moment during that season, Beckham plays a part. The FA Cup fourth-round match versus Liverpool, is seen as the match that started the numerous late comebacks that followed throughout the season, and set the trend for the matches to follow, after United went a goal down early on and Beckham set up the equalizer as United managed to win the game in the dying seconds. The other FA Cup match that stands out during that season is the semi-final against Arsenal at Villa Park, which is remembered for the brilliant goal from Ryan Giggs, but not so much for the celebration that followed. However, many people forget that Beckham scored the opening goal in that game with a world class effort. If people managed to look past the sheer brilliance of Giggs, then maybe Becks would get more credit for that game.
During the Premier League season, Becks scored five goals, but scored a last-minute equalizer against Leicester on the opening day of the season and scored an equalizer against Wimbledon, in addition to that. The most important goal he scored, however, was on the final day of the league campaign where United needed a win against Tottenham Hotspur to confirm their place as champions. Spurs took a shock lead at Old Trafford, through Les Ferdinand. But guess who got the equalizer? That’s right, Becks did. United went on to win the game 2-1, securing their status as champions.
The biggest prize United won that season was undoubtedly the UEFA Champions League, with Beckham contributing to the goals in the group stage with goals against Barcelona and Brøndby. The real contribution came in the knockout stages and the final, however. In the semi-final second leg against Juventus, United went two goals down early on but managed to overturn the deficit and win 3-2. This game is remembered for Roy Keane’s inspirational performance as captain, with his gaol staging the comeback. But, yet again, who put the cross in for him? David Beckham.
The final doesn’t need an explanation, but those illustrious corners that Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer scored from, were delivered by Becks. His ability to dependably deliver for his teammates during the crucial moments of the season display how he was world class during his time at Old Trafford, especially during that magnificent season.
Off the field
Off the football pitch, David Beckham is more than just a footballer. He is a brand, an icon, a celebrity, someone who has propelled himself into the pinnacle of celebrity culture. He is arguably the most famous footballer on the planet or was when he was still playing. To some extent his influence off the pitch is due to him becoming an icon on it. He is one of the most marketable athletes in sport and has been sought after by numerous fashion magazines, hair stylists, and health and fitness specialists.
Would this all have been possible if he hadn’t been a Manchester United player? Probably not. There’s no doubt that United gave him the platform to attract the publicity. He was winning titles, playing for one of the biggest clubs in England, therefore the publicity was inevitable.
The influence of Beckham and his brand in the United States of America was significant when he played there. He was Major League Soccer’s first major signing since the days of Pele and was instrumental in helping popularize the sport in a country where it receives little mainstream attention. He paved the way for other big names to follow him across the pond including players such as Thierry Henry and Steven Gerrard.
Beckham’s contribution on and off the pitch will no doubt be remembered for years to come. His contribution to United’s success is often overlooked for his celebrity lifestyle and sponsorships. Maybe it went unnoticed because Beckham’s style of play was never to take on a man or burst down the touchline with electric speed. Nevertheless, he delivered at the critical times for United, and was world class, without hesitation.
Written by Jonny Webb