Our first Hall Of Fame inductee from the realm of football is one of my favorite players of all-time, David Beckham. Or simply Becks.
It’s hard to believe it’s already been 2.5 years since Becks hung up his boots, since he was such a permanent presence during all those years that I loved football. Even when it was happening far from the eye, when he played in the US. During his last few seasons he was the last of the Mohicans, the last active players that I truly idolized as a kid. I really hoped his retirement would never come, but I guess no one can beat father time. Fuck you, father time.
I don’t remember the exact point in time when I first heard of David, but it was at some point during the 1996/97 season, the first football season I followed as a fan. David was one of the young stars of Man United, the team that was THE thing then, like Barcelona is now. I started supporting Chelsea that season, mainly because of the great Gianfranco Zola, but I always had sympathy for Man United as well. They had so many great players, and Becks was arguably the brightest jewel of them all.
To the 1998 World Cup he already came as one of England’s biggest stars. And he had a good tournament, scoring his first international goal in the group stage match against Colombia with one of his trademark free kicks. And then came the match against Argentina in the round of 16.
It was arguably THE best match of that World Cup. Much action, 4 goals and a lot of drama. Becks provided the pass to Michael Owen’s legendary goal, but later was shown the red card after retaliating to Diego Simeone’s foul on him and kicking him while he (Becks) was lying on the ground. Simeone’s reaction was so exaggerated, it was like someone shot him with a fucking shotgun, but David was obviously ejected from the game (ejected? what? is this basketball?). I soooo fucking hated Simeone for that. And after that England lost on penalties and Becks was given so much hate in his homeland, way more than even David Batty who missed the crucial penalty in the shoot-out and as England’s tabloids go – would have been at the receiving end of the criticism if it wasn’t for David.
His played brilliantly for Man United after that, winning the famous treble in the 1998/1999 season (remember those corners in the CL final? Who ran to take them with such strong belief in his team?) and being so shamefully robbed of the Ballon D’Or that year, finishing second to Rivaldo. But his redemption in the eyes of England fans came only several years after that, in the 2002 World Cup cycle.
First he provided one of the most memorable free kicks of all-time, against Greece. It was the kick that was heard around the world. England was losing to Greece 1-2, and needed a draw to qualify automatically to the World Cup. In the 93rd minute they were awarded a free-kick, which Becks executed perfectly to send England to the World Cup. If I was writing a script for a movie I couldn’t have done it more perfectly. Well, maybe it’s because I suck at writing and my second paper just got rejected from another scientific journal, fuck you very much Journal of Experimental Psychology. Er, where was I?
Anyway, yeah, so Becks finally redeemed himself in the eyes of the English fans. However, he injured his foot in preparation for the World Cup, and I still have the newspapers with those anxious headlines, hoping that he will be fit to play. Spoiler alert: He was. During the 2002 World Cup he played well, and when England played against Argentina in the group stage he even scored the penalty which turned out to be the only goal in the match. His best game came against Denmark, in the round of 16, when England won 3-0 and David was simply phenomenal. They (England) lost to eventual champions Brazil in the next match, but nevertheless I included Becks in my “2002 World Cup Best 11” team when it ended. Back then I was befuddled when he was left out of the official selection, because in my opinion he played really well, but nowadays I don’t know. Perhaps I was a bit blinded by my admiration for him. Although I still think he had a great tournament.
A year after the World Cup he moved to Real Madrid, a big mistake in my opinion. Because he looked much better in red. And also because while he still played good football in Spain he never again reached the same heights he breathed while he played for Manchester United. And his first season with Real turned out to be a major disappointment, when Real’s All-Star squad failed to win a single trophy. With all this luggage he came to the Euro 2004 tournament, and it was there that me and him had our biggest crisis.
I think it was because of his horrible penalty shooting. David was really terrible and missed a penalty when England lost to France 2-1 during the group stage, and had an even worse penalty in the shootout against Portugal in the Quarter-Finals. The latter was really hideous, it flew to the fucking moon and made me jump from my couch in the living room and start swearing. “Why on earth was he still taking penalties?!” I yelled to the TV screen, and proceeded to express my anger in the internet forum I was really active in at that time.
Yap. Becks didn’t have a good tournament to say the least, and I was really upset by it. I thought that perhaps his über-celebrity status is hurting him. Back then he and Victoria were EVERYWHERE, and many people voiced that opinion. I think that some of it got to me too. I don’t know how much of the criticism was true, because David was always singled out for his dedication to hard work and utter professionalism, even from people who has seen a thing or two in football, like Alex Ferguson or Fabio Capello. I always admired this trait about him.
The 2006 World Cup turned out to be Beck’s last major international tournament, since England blew its Euro 2008 campaign and Beckham was tragically injured before the 2010 World Cup. Germany 2006 wasn’t the best of tournaments, neither for England nor for Becks, but he still assisted a couple of goals and scored a goal against Ecuador (via free kick, who would have guessed!), which made him the first Englishman to score in three World Cups, a remarkable achievement considering he was a midfielder and not a forward.
Becks continued to play for the national team, but alas, that tragic injury before the 2010 World Cup… I was so sad to hear about it. And then stupid Capello decided that he won’t call up Becks to the squad anymore, not because he’s not good or something like that, but because he wants to make room for new players. Fucking bullshit. Beckham never retired from the national team, and always – ALWAYS – made himself available for selection. He always said that playing for the national team was the highest honor he could get, and I sympathize with this statement so much that I would have admired him even if he wasn’t already one of my favorite players. We see soooo many players, even the biggest stars, who retire from international play at some point during their career, because they think they gave it enough and wish to focus on their club career, that you simply have to take off your hat for a player like Becks, who says that if they call him up – he’ll be there, even after Capello made that stupidest of announcements. Mucho respect, Becks!
In 2007 Becks moved to the US to play for LA Galaxy. Even then I thought that it’s a bad move, and I’m certain of it today. He might have played some good football there, I don’t know (but I see he collected a few individual trophies there as well), but he disappeared from the biggest stage – European football, Champions League. It was never the same when he played in the MLS. Thankfully, he probably understood that too, and returned to Europe twice during his Galaxy spell. That was awesome, but the best thing about that? He returned to play for AC Milan, one of my two favorite teams (the other one is Chelsea)! It was great to be able to see him play once again (his return to Old Trafford for that Champions League match in 2010 was really emotional), and I cherished every moment of it, because I knew that those are probably the last few times I get to see him in action. Well, they almost were. Because when his contract with Galaxy ended, he moved to PSG to play there for about half a season. So we got to see a bit more of him. But we should have gotten a lot more. Because Becks was supposed to play for Team GB in the 2012 Olympics. The fact that he was omitted from the final squad by Stupid Stuart Pierce is a real disgrace. It’s a farce, it’s absurd. Giggs was selected. What could have been perfecter (yup, that’s a word in my dictionary) than reliving the great duo of Becks and Giggs? Psycho might have been a great player, but he lost all my respect with this stupid decision. Who was selected instead of Becks? Micah Richards, what in the name of all the flying fucks?! Becks should have been given this final respect, as one of the greatest British footballers of the past 20 years…
Anyway, PSG. I remember David’s last match. May 18th, 2013. He managed to assist a goal in that match. BTW, I think David is the player with the highest number of assists in the history of football, or at least in the top 5. His average of assists per game is the highest in Premier League’s history. Anyway, it was so emotional. The scenes of him leaving the pitch and fighting to contain his emotions drove me to wetness in my eyes as well, and few moments in sports managed to excite me that much. Beckham’s retirement was one of them. Knowing that you will never get to see this player play football… Like i said, he was the last of the Mohicans, the last active player of the players who I really idolized as kid. And now we’re never going to see him in action again…
When I first flew abroad with my parents, in 1998, London was one of the places we visited. And I wanted to get a Beckham Manchester United jersey so much… We went inside a sports store we saw, but the jerseys there were authentic and very expensive. So I dropped the idea. But I didn’t give up on it. In our 2003 trip we stayed in Prague for a few days, and I knew that in Eastern Europe they sell very cheap football jerseys replicas. And indeed, Prague’s whole main street was filled with stores selling football jerseys. By that time Beckham already signed for Real Madrid, and so I bought a replica of his Real jersey, with his new number – 23. I was sooo happy :-). After 5 years, my wish was finally fulfilled!
I used this shirt when, in March of 2004, we celebrated Purim – a Jewish holiday in which you wear costumes – similarly to Halloween. It was my final year in high-school, and after not dressing up for the previous several years, I decided that this final year I will co-operate with the local custom and wear a costume. So I dressed up as David Beckham. Thankfully, my hair was kinda long (I was always fond of long hair. I sooo fucking hated having to cut it short for three years during my military service), so I dyed it blond and did that high ponytail Beckham was sporting during that time. A friend of mine gave me football shoes (thanks Ofer!), I wrote the names of Victoria, Brooklyn and Romeo on my limbs because I knew Becks had tattoos with their names, and so this is how I went to school that day:
The costume was great (well, at least in my eyes), but when I entered the costume contest we had I was given a football and was asked to demonstrate my mad skillz. Of course I didn’t have any, and so I feebly juggled the ball once or twice before it fell. I must say I got a bit better since then. And no, I didn’t win the contest. Stupid contest, who needs it anyway? 😦
BTW, in hindsight it’s really great that I bought Beckham’s jersey in 2003, when I was nearly 17 years old, and not back in 1998, when I was almost 12. That jersey is still in perfect condition and to this day I sometimes wear it to work, i.e. to the university. It’s so great that my workplace doesn’t give a damn about how you dress…
So, what’s so great about David? Why do I like him so much? Well, apart from him being one of the handsomest footballers to ever live? I already wrote about his dedication to the national team and his tremendous work ethic, which was what allowed him to bring his famous free kicks to perfection.
Yeah, those free kicks. David was one of the best, if not THE best, free kick specialist during his playing days. I remember the excitement boiling up inside me whenever he was about to shoot a free kick. His hit-rate was very good, and he also had that approaching technique, which wasn’t arrogant as Cristiano’s or powerful as Roberto Carlos’s. It was just so elegant! Like all of Beckham’s play. He possessed such flair when he played that it was just so nice to watch him in action.
He was a magnificent passer, but above all he had the most perfect lobs that were ever seen on a football pitch. They were truly otherworldly. I can’t count how many goals he assisted via lobs, it just seemed like he can find anyone’s head with them, and not just find it but also put the ball exactly where it needs to be in order for the receiver to execute a perfect header. I really think that he had the best lobs in the history of the game.
Now, it’s true that he also possessed (and still possesses) dazzlingly good looks, and his celebrity status sometimes overshadowed his exploits on the pitch, and that led to some people to call him overrated. But in my opinion it was the other way around. The fact that he suffered from this “Brad Pitt Syndrome” (it’s real. trust me, I’m a psychologist) made people put too much emphasis on all of his outside-the-pitch stuff and to underestimate his abilities. “He’s that successful only because of his looks and his ability to sell shirts”, stuff like that. And I think that all of this “overrated” talk eventually made him one of the most underrated players. The disrespect towards Becks grew to such levels that people began to even overlook and cast doubt in all of the good qualities he brought to the game, like hard work and dedication, when in fact Becks was always one of the players who tried and fought the most on the pitch. Perhaps it all started when he began dating Victoria back in 1997 or 1998, I don’t know. But I think that it played a part in the crazy preference of Rivaldo over him in the 1999 Ballon D’Or.
And perhaps I’m going too much in the opposite direction and I still view him with those kid’s eyes, like back when I first started to like him. But in my opinion he was the best player on that great Manchester United team that won the treble back when winning three titles in a season was still a rare occasion, a legend of the England national team, and one of my three all-time favorite players. Who are the other two? Well, let’s wait patiently for their induction to the Hall Of Fame…