Beckham: A sports icon of our times
David Beckham's retirement will bring an end to a footballing career that went far beyond his sport, and turned a gangly teenager from east London into one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.
Hugely gifted as a player, though far from ranking with the greats such as Pele, Maradona and Lionel Messi, Beckham's true genius has been his marketability.
Guided by his Spice Girl wife Victoria, Beckham progressively became a fashion icon, a global brand and the world's highest-paid footballer with a fortune estimated by The Sunday Times Rich List at around 165 million pounds ($250 million).
''I am a footballer that has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world and 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 said Thursday after announcing he would retire at the end of the season.
His career, the first half of which was spent with the Manchester United team he grew up supporting, reads like a Who's Who of club football. Critics of his fame, wealth and enduring good looks often overlook an important fact:
Everywhere he went, Beckham won trophies.
The high point of his decade with United was undoubtedly winning the treble in 1999. At the Champions League final in Barcelona, Beckham replaced the suspended captain Roy Keane in central midfield for a game that finished in dramatic style - with United scoring twice in injury time to beat Bayern Munich 2-1.
Beckham's stamina, work-rate, pinpoint passing and deadly free kick abilities helped United to six Premier League titles and two FA Cups by the time he became one of the few Englishmen to be sought by a major European club. By joining Real Madrid in 2003, Beckham became one of the ''Galactico'' stars in a team that also included Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos.
His four years in Spain brought a relatively meager return in terms of major trophies. However, Beckham managed to sign off with the Spanish league title before starting arguably his biggest adventure as a player - and as a lucrative vehicle for merchandising and sponsorship - in the United States.
Given his many friends in the world of show business on both sides of the Atlantic, it seemed almost inevitable that if Beckham was going to try and raise the profile of the game in the U.S., it would be on Hollywood's doorstep.
The Los Angeles Galaxy signed him to a five-year contract in 2007 and Beckham instantly became the face of U.S. soccer, setting up home in Beverly Hills and spending time with friends like Tom Cruise and Snoop Dogg.
Though there was the inevitable criticism of his lifestyle and earnings, along with his off-season spells with AC Milan, Beckham was ultimately able to answer that by helping the Galaxy to two MLS Cup titles.
''I don't think he would ever need to prove he was worth bringing here,'' Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said in November 2011. ''He's done great things for this franchise and great things for this league.''
Beckham's final stop, a brief sojourn in the French capital with newly-rich Paris Saint-Germain, has yielded his final league title and now a final curtain to a unique footballing career.
However, Beckham's appeal is not universal. Not everyone likes his success and his changing hairstyles, and he has had to face some major setbacks, both on and off the pitch.
Like every England player since 1966, Beckham failed to win a trophy with his country. And although he will be remembered for making a record 115 appearances as an outfield player, and for a stunning free kick against Greece in 2001 that put his country into the following year's World Cup, he has also been a figure of hate.
His red card against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup led to death threats and the hanging of an effigy of him outside a London pub.
Substituted due to injury, Beckham broke down in tears on the bench as England bowed out of the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals against Portugal. The following day, he stepped down from the captaincy and was subsequently frozen out by new coach Steve McClaren.
Highly-publicized allegations of an affair in 2004 - which Beckham denied - did nothing for his image as a family man.
Yet he remains a popular and hugely successful figure in the world of sport. Far bigger than just football, Beckham also played a part in bringing the Olympics to London as one of the bid ambassadors - though he was not selected for the Great Britain team.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter described Beckham on Thursday as ''one of the most iconic figures in global football'' and his retirement as ''the end of a chapter of an amazing story.''
His wealth, showbiz lifestyle and celebrity status have clearly taken Beckham a world away from rainy training sessions with United's youth team, and practicing in the park with his dad.
Yet the trappings of material success are not the legacy he wants to leave behind.
''I just want people to see me as a hardworking footballer,'' Beckham said in a television interview on Thursday. ''Someone who is passionate about the game, somebody who every time I have stepped on the pitch I have given everything that I have.''