David Robert Joseph Beckham was born on May 2, 1975, in Leytonstone, a small town just a short drive northeast of London. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) The only son of David (known to everyone as "Ted") and Sandra Beckham, he was sandwiched between two girls, Lynne and Joanne. Though David's parents both worked—Ted as a gas fitter's assistant and Sandra as a hairdresser—they made sure to set aside plenty of quality time to spend with their children.
Leytonstone—blue collar through and through—was soccer-crazy, much like the rest of England. Ted caught the bug as a young boy and dreamed of playing professionally. Though his career fizzled before he made it to the big time, he was a good player who stayed active in local leagues. The elder Beckham often brought David to his matches. The boy begged to join the games and finally got his chance when he reached his teen years.
A diehard fan of Manchester United, David was completely obsessed with soccer. Buying birthday and Christmas gifts for him was simple. A soccer ball or jersey from his favorite team or a poster of the players he idolized—Steve Bruce, Gordon Strachan and Bryan Robson—was all he ever wanted. On weekends David and his family often visited Ted's mom and dad. David's grandfather was a loyal supporter of Man-U’s longtime rival, Arsenal. He would recount the heroic exploits of stars like Chalrie Buchan and Alex James, but Ted forbid his son to root for Arsenal. Though grandpa Beckham tried his best to sway the boy, David stuck with United.
It was rare to see David without a soccer ball as a child. A talented all-around athlete, he played other sports, including rounders, baseball, basketball and rugby, but none could come close to his first love. He was also a Boy Scout (though mostly because soccer was one of the chief activites). After school and on weekends, David either headed to the park for a pick-up game or suited up for a youth-league match. At age eight, he joined the Ridgeway Rovers of the Enfield District League and quickly developed into the club's most talentes scorer. His footwork, anticipation and ability to control the action were already evident at this age.
Three years later, David participated in Bobby Charlton's Soccer Skills Tournament (a nationwide competition akin to "Punt, Pass & Kick” in the U.S.). The 11-year-old won the event with the highest score ever. Included among his prizes was a two-week trip with Terry Venables' Barcelona side at the Nou Camp.
Ted had a lot to do with David's burgeoning talent. He worked out with his son regularly, teaching him the nuances of dribbling, passing, crossing and shooting. A tireless student, David did everything well on the pitch, but his powerful right leg attracted the most attention. He could propel the ball at speeds comparable to many adult players and had a particular gift for making his shots curl in the air. This caused defenders to lean the wrong way and made goalkeepers commit too soon. Scoring long, spectacular goals became David's trademark.
David was an intelligent kid, but more often than not school took a backseat to soccer. Instead of studying, David preferred to watch "Grandstand" or "Match of the Day." That's not to say he was a slacker. David regularly took odd jobs to earn extra money. Among his more memorable gigs was collecting empty glasses at the Walthamstow dog track.
Ted and Sandra kept their son in line by using his love of soccer as both prod and punishment. If he misbehaved, they didn't hesitate to hold him out of practice. There was nothing he hated more.
As David grew older, he became the subject of an intense recruiting war between various soccer interests. He played for the Essex Schools and Leyton Orient, and attended Tottenham Hotspur's School of Excellence. Professional clubs tried to lure him with various gifts—including free tickets to matches (which David and his parents never turned down). But the red and white of Manchester was always in his blood. Representatives from United first came knocking after David's 12th birthday. Every summer after that he went to Manchester for workouts. In July of 1991, on the advice of Charlton, the club signed the 16-year-old as a trainee.
ON THE RISE
It didn't take long
for David to get his feet wet with United. Unlike some players his age,
he adjusted very well to life away from home. The teenager was so eager
to start his professional career that being separated from his family
for days and weeks at a time barely phased him.
A year later David was loaned to Preston North End, a third-division club. At first he was discouraged by what he considered to be a demotion and feared that Manchester wanted to get rid of him. But he came to realize that playing time—at any level—was crucial to his development.
Preston manager Gary Peters welcomed David with open arms, and when the rest of the team discovered the young star wasn't a prima donna, they gladly accepted him, too. In his first match with the club, David scored on a curling corner kick. He was so good in his next four games, Manchester recalled him.
David was sorry to
leave Preston. He had made several good friends in his short time there,
including David Moyes. His disappointment turned to elation when he got
to take the field with Manchester stars like Paul Ince and Mark Hughes.
By season’s end, though the United had a down year, David felt like
David was one of the few bright spots in the defeat, netting his first Premiership goal. Still, no one could have foreseen what would come next. With its young midfielder controlling the flow of games, United stormed to the league title and won the FA Cup—achieving a startling double. David scored seven goals in 33 league matches, including several on brilliant free kicks. His biggest moment came in the semifinals of the FA Cup, as he drove home the game-winner.
David also got a taste of international competition in 1996, when England's manager, Glen Hoddle, tabbed him for a match against Moldova. Nervous in his first appearance for his country, David played unevenly. At one point, he earned a yellow card, then pretended to be injured. Overall, however, Hoddle was pleased with what he saw from David, who flashed his speed, skill and brashness in earning his first cap.
On a high from his strong rookie season, David headed into the 1996-97 campaign ready to elevate himself to superstar status. In Manchester's first league game, he spotted Wimbledon keeper Neil Sullivan a few steps out of the goal and blasted a long, looping kick from his own end that found the net. The audacious goal caused a national stir and propelled the United in defense of its Premiership crown. Over the campaign's final months, Manchester put together a 15-game undefeated streak. David capped the run with a late goal that produced a tie against Chelsea. When Liverpool folded down the stretch, United took its second league title in a row. The club also made a dash for the European Cup but lost in the semifinals.
David was one of the year's best stories. He was voted the Young Player of the Year and finished as runner-up in the overall player balloting. He also solidified his spot on England’s national squad. Pushed by midfielder Karel Poborsky, he earned the admiration of Hoddle for his hardnosed—and often breathtaking—play.
Off the field, David was in high demand, too. In March, he met Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams. The two were immediately smitten with one another. The relationship only added to David's growing celebrity. With one of England’s most eligible bachelors dating one of the country's most notorious sex symbols, the tabloids had a field day. In the minds of many fans, David was leading the dream life.
MAKING HIS MARK
The glare of the spotlight started to become a blinding nuisance in 1998—though on the surface it seemed David had little to complain about. Thanks to his growing fame (and rugged good looks), endorsement deals were flooding in. The most lucrative offer came from Adidas, which made David a multimillionaire with a seven-year contract. At the same time, he and Victoria got engaged. (They have since married, and have three boys, Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz.)
But all was not well in his world. David became the target of a stalker who made regular appearances outside his home in Worsley. Adding to his misery, media reports criticized him for being big-headed and overly concerned with his image. David was becoming one of those bigger-than-life athletes—abhorred by millions and adored by millions more.
Manchester, meanwhile, experienced a frustrating end to its 1997-98 season, getting eliminated from the Champions League by Monaco and dropping the Premiership title to Arsenal by one point. Though David set a personal-high with nine goals, he wasn't happy with his team's finish. Also, his on-field conduct was coming under fire. A ruthless competitor, David sometimes let his temper get the best of him. On separate occasions, Ferguson and Hoddle talked to him about controlling his emotions.
All this energized the atmosphere heading into World Cup 98 in France. England had wiggled into the tournament in qualifying, then took its place in a group with Tunisia, Romania, and Colombia. Fans back home were not particularly optimistic. Hoddle didn't include playmaker Paul Gascoigne on his roster, robbing the team of valuable experience and placing the scoring burden on the shoulders of striker Alan Shearer. The coach's surprising move also exerted more pressure on David and another rising star, Michael Owen.
Hoddle further perplexed English fans when neither David nor Owen saw the field in the opening match against Tunisia. The Brits were blanked 2-0. England struggled early in its next game against Romania, before Hoddle finally inserted Owen. He combined with Shearer on a beautiful goal, but it wasn't enough. England lost again, 2-1.
Next came a do-or-die match versus Colombia. In dire need of offense, Hoddle started David and Owen. Owen's speed opened the field for his teammates, and David took advantage, keeping the pressure on all game. He scored a on a free kick in a 2-0 victory to push England on to the Round of 16. Back home, David was hailed as a national hero.
Up next for England was hated Argentina. There was no match that British fans wanted to win more. During the 1980s, the two nations had battled over the Falkland Islands (with England winning) and during the World Cup (with Argentina winning on Diego Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” goal). The setting—Toulouse Stadium of Saint-Etienne, nicknamed the "pressure-cooker"—amplified the drama of the game.
Argentina seized an early 1-0 lead, but Shearer and Owen answered with goals of their own. The Argentinians drew even shortly before intermission. In the opening minutes of the second half, David was leveled from behind by Diego Simeone. Furious at the foul, he lashed out at the Argentinian, kicking at him with his right leg. The referee spotted this infraction and held up a red card. For the first time in his professional career, David was sent off. Down a man the rest of the way, England could muster little offense and ended up losing on penalty kicks.
In the locker room after the game, David did not know what to say to his teammates. They were spent and could barely find the energy to change out of their jerseys. David looked over at Shearer and apologized. Tony Adams finally got up and told him that he should not feel like he let the team down. Afterwards, when David saw his parents, he cried.
Though a World Cup title was never expected, English fans were nonetheless enraged. Tabloids ran headlines that read "10 HEROIC LIONS, ONE STUPID BOY" and "WHAT AN IDIOT." David arrived home as public enemy #1.
When the 1998-99 season began, David was heckled mercilessly everywhere he went. Somehow he managed to ignore the harassment. He showed his mettle on Opening Day, scoring on one of his trademark free kicks to secure a 2-2 tie with Leicester. From there he paced Manchester to another championship. In an unprecedented triple, United captured the Premiership, FA Cup and European Cup. Though his goal total dropped to six, David was voted Best Midfielder and Most Valuable Player.
Despite David’s marvelous comeback season, many fans refused to cut him any slack. The strain appeared to take its toll at the start of the 1999-00 Premiership season. First, David was fined two weeks' pay for attending a party the night before a league match. Next he debuted a skinhead look that caused a big stir in the media. (Years later he would opt for corn rows.) He and Ferguson also began openly feuding. When David’s temper got the best of him in several Manchester games, members of England's Football Association summoned him to discuss his behavior. In December, he was pulled over for speeding—though he explained away the charge when he contended that he was trying to elude a photographer.
Controversy continued to dog David as the calendar turned to 2000. In Manchester's first game of the World Club Championship—against Necaxa of Mexico—he was sent off for a rough tackle of Jose Milian. Though United managed a 1-1 draw, David's actions drew the ire of fans, who were reminded of his World Cup blunder. This time English soccer legend Kevin Keegan, now the coach of the national team, came to his defense. With the Brits preparing for Euro 2000 in the Netherlands, Keegan assured reporters that David's spot on the squad was secure.
After beating Germany to open Euro 2000, England lost to more technically gifted teams from Portugal and Romania. The entire tournament was a national embarrassment, as British soccer hooligans made headlines worldwide with their terrible behavior.
David’s Premiership season was considerably more positive. With six goals in 31 games, he helped Manchester to the fourth league title of his career. He also finished second to Brazil's Rivaldo in voting for both the European and World Footballer of the Year, and was runner-up to Lennox Lewis as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
David opened the 2000-01 season in top form. By January, he had eight goals and was being praised as England's most creative midfielder. Desperate for ways to corral him, opponents began focusing extra attention on David. The increased defensive pressure sent him into a terrible slump. With each scoreless game, he became more and more frustrated. His low point came after a tie against Valencia, when the Spanish media dubbed him "the man that didn't turn up."
David, now 25, handled the difficult period with surprising maturity. As one of several players under consideration to captain the national team, he realized how much was on the line. Though David had assumed the leader's role for an exhibition against Italy, England's new coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, had not set anything in stone. Among the others he was considering for the job were Sol Campbell and Gary Neville. The more Eriksson thought about it, however, the more he leaned toward David. The midfielder wore the captain's armband for a friendly match against Spain, then for qualifiers for World Cup 02 versus Albania and Finland. In the second game, David netted the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory.
David tried to convince United he was equally important to them and requested a pay raise in May. Team captain Roy Keane earned 75,000 pounds a week, and David wanted a bump to 100,000. But the club refused to meet his demands, maintaining it had a strict salary grading system. Ultimately, however, Manchester acquiesced, and David became the highest-paid player in the history of Old Trafford.
Among those who celebrated David's new deal were fans in the Far East. In July, Man-U embarked on a 10-day tour for matches against Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Thailand. David was mobbed everywhere he went. More than 6,000 screaming fans greeted him and the team when they landed at the Kuala Lumpur airport, all straining for a glimpse of soccer’s biggest international heart throb. The scene was replayed again and again during the the United's travels. At times, David felt more like a rock star than a soccer player.
A month later, England readied itself for a World Cup qualifier against Germany in Munich. Initially, David's health was a concern due to a tender groin. But when he declared himself fit to take the field, the Brits received a huge boost. They went on to a 5-1 rout behind three goals from Owen. In an October qualifier, David took center stage. Down a goal in the waning minutes of a match against Greece, he nailed a twisting free kick to secure a 2-2 tie and guarantee England's spot in soccer's grandest tournament.
On the strength of that victory, David prepared for the 2001-02 Premiership campaign. Brimming with confidence, he established a career-high in goals, netting his 11th by Manchester's 28th game. But disaster struck—at least that's how all of England reacted—when he went down with an injury in April. In a match against Spain's Deportivo La Coruna, David was toppled with a two-footed tackled by Aldo Duscher. Collapsing in a heap on the turf, he grasped at his left foot. Preliminary reports indicated a broken metatarsal bone, and doctors confirmed the diagnosis a week later. Suddenly David's availability for the World Cup was in question. The most optimistic prognosis said he would be back by late May.
British fans everywhere cringed at the news. David's injury even bumped the death of the Queen Mother from the front pages. Prime Minister Tony Blair told the nation to hope for the best.
England's prayers were answered: David healed in time for the World Cup's opening-round matches. He was sorely needed. Included in a group with Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria, the English were part of a tough draw. In their first game, against the Swedes, they managed a 1-1 tie. After edging Argentina 1-0, they played Nigeria to a draw. The single point got them out of the group and set up an elimination-round match with Denmark.
Relaxed and confident, England looked like world beaters versus the Danes. David got the Brits on the board early with a picture- perfect corner. Owen followed that goal with one of his ownfor a 2-0 lead. Just before intermission, David set up a third tally to put the game on ice. England won 3-0 and earned a meeting with Brazil, the top-rated team in the tournament.
England opened the match determined to slow down the explosive Brazilians. With the strategy working perfectly, the Brits went ahead when Brazil's Lucio committed an unexpected mistake in his own end. Owen was there to chip the loose ball home, and the English took a 1-0 lead. England stayed on top until stoppage time of the first half. Then Ronaldinho and Rivaldo teamed up for a pretty goal, sending the match into intermission deadlocked at 1-1.
The game turned minutes into the second half when English keeper David Seaman suffered brain-freeze, allowing a shot from 100 feet away to elude him. With the pressure on, England appeared to get a big break when Ronaldinho was red-carded and sent off in the 57th minute. But David & Co. couldn't take advantage. Playing a man-up for a full 33 minutes, they never mounted a serious scoring threat and lost 2-1. Brazil went on to win it all with a victory over Germany in the final. Still, David emerged from the 2002 World Cup as a hero.
He continued this momentum into the 2002-03 season, which as usual had its fair share of highlights and controversy. Manchester won the league again, with David scoring six times in 31 matches. He worked particularly well with Dutch star Ruud van Nistelroy, who netted 21 goals in Premiership play.
As the season wound down, speculation as to where David would play next began to grab the headlines. His new contract would be a whopper, and there was some suggestion that Manchester would not be willing to bid against other wealthy clubs for his services. David assured reporters that he planned to stay at Old Trafford, but rumors ran rampant.
When Manchester played Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinal, United fans’ spirits sank when David spent more than 60 minutes on the bench while Juan Veron and Gunnar Solskjaer played in his place. Though no deal had been announced, Ferguson had effectively punched his star’s ticket. David finally entered the game he scored twice, but it was too little too late.
Would David join Real Madrid, as Luis Figo had in 2000? As Zinedine Zidane had in 2001? As the great Ronaldo had in 2002? It soon became clear that club president Florentino Perez had set his sights on David and would not be denied. In mid-June, the announcement was made: David was moving to the Spanish super club at a transfer fee of $41.3 million.
During his time with Manchester, the fans and media adored David. He could do no wrong in their eyes. Things were much different when he arrived in Spain. For the first time in a long time, David had to prove himself. Many Real supporters and beat writers thought the club obtained him simply to sell t-shirts.
David got down to business immediately, curling in a free kick in a friendly match against FC Tokyo. It was just his second appearance for Real during an Asian summer tour. The goal paved the way for a 3-0 victory over one of Japan’s most respected clubs.
David played well on the trip, continually distributing the ball to his new superstar teammates. He was also up to the task in his first game in Spain’s Primera Division against Real Betis. David scored in the third minute, as Real won 2-1. Still, the critics wanted more. After David’s first two weeks in Spain, reporters scolded Real for spending so much money on him, a player who was mediocre at best in their eyes.
As the season progressed, however, the tide began to turn. The same people who had blasted David early on started to hail him for his tremendous work in the midfield and his dead-on serving accuracy. David netted only two more goals in his first season but shone brightly in other areas.
David, in fact, was the lone positive during Real’s 2003-04 season. Coming off a league championship the previous year, the club had a healthy lead early in the season but went into a skid defensively and finished a disappointing fourth. After a terrible showing in the Champions League—in which they were defeated by AS Monaco—Real lost in the Copa de Rey final against Real Zaragoza. The dismal year cost head coach Carlos Quieroz his job.
While David was solid on the pitch for Real, he encountered huge problems outside the lines. In April of 2004, his former personal assistant, Rebecca Loos, claimed the two had an affair during his first few months in Spain. Then, another woman contended that he seduced her in 2001 while Manchester United was on an Asian tour. At first, David violently refuted the reports but eventually backed off from this stance. (Victoria supported her husband, and the two remain one of the world's power couples.)
The alleged scandals affected David. He used to stop and sign autographs after matches and loved to pose for the paparazzi. Now he was racing away from fans and media in his Aston Martin after matches. His status as the world’s most popular footballer was clearly in jeopardy.
Despite the bad publicity, the endorsements kept coming. In May, Gillette announced David as the company's new spokesman. Three months prior, Adidas introduced its new David Beckham logo, much in the mold of Nike's old Jordan silhouette.
Through it all, it was believed that David would leave Spain, opting to return to England to be with his wife and children. After discussing the situation with Victoria, he decided to remain with Real Madrid.
David's next challenge came as the English captain during Euro Cup 2004. After defeating France 2-1, England fell to Portugal in a quarterfinal shootout. In each game, David failed to convert a penalty kick. His first attempt was thwarted by the French goalkeeper, while his second soared over the crossbar and landed about 20 rows up.
That fall, David hit another bump in the road when he was sent off for hammering Ben Thatcher in a match against Wales. Having previously received a yellow card and also nursing an injury, he deliberately committed the foul so that he would be banned from the following game—which he would have missed anyway because of the injury. He later apologized for his questionable judgment.
Real mamanger Quieroz was replaced by former team star Jose Antonio Camacho, who started the new season with defensive-minded newcomers Walter Samuel and Jonathan Woodgate. The man the fans wanted was midfielder Patrick Vieira, but the team couldn’t swing a deal. Striker Samuel Eto'o was also on the market, but Real opted to pursue Liverpool’s Michael Owen. He joined the team in time for the 2004-05 campaign.
David’s second season with real Madrid wasn’t much better than his first. He played unevenly most of the year, and Real finished a distant second. Owen was a non-factor, while Eto'o had a great year for Barcelona, which finished first in the Liga. Camacho didn’t even survive the year. He stepped down and was eventually replaced by Vanderlei Luxemburgo, who did a decent job the rest of the way. Real lasted until the quarterfinals of the 2005 Champions League.
David did not find
success playing for England, either. In an October match against Austria,
he became the first English captain to be sent off twice.
World Cup 06 promised to provide David with a much-needed upswing. England was among the teams considered to be potential champions, and he was still the captain. In the opening match against Paraguay, his free kick led to an own goal that decided the game. Against Trinidad and Tobago, David set up the first goal late in the contest with a beautiful cross and assisted on the second goal in a 2-0 victory. He was named Man of the Match. Despite those heroics, however, David was singled out for criticism in his next match, when he was unable to dribble past defenders against Sweden.
Against Ecuador in the first match of the final round, David drilled a free kick in the 59th minute for a 1-0 victory and a berth in the round of eight—this despite a pregame illness that left him dehydrated and sick on the sidelines. In England's next match, against Portugal, David was called to the sideline shortly after the half. He just couldn't go on, and as the match ground to a 0-0 conclusion, he was moved to tears. Portugal prevailed on kicks to send the Brits home. The next day, David called a news conference to announce that he was stepping down as team captain.
A few weeks later,
David, now 31, was dropped from the national team.
Meanwhile, Fabio Capello
had taken over Real Madrid's coaching duties for the 2006-07 season. It
soon became apparent that he was not a David Beckham fan either. David
started a couple of games but was employed mostly as a sub.
In his last year of his mega-contract, David's future seemed clouded. Club president Ramon Calderon dropped hints that he might retire, prompting Arsenal, Celtic and Tottenham Hotspur to state that they would gladly take him during FIFA's January transfer period. Maccabi Netanya, an Israeli club, actually put in a request for David. Meanwhile, news reports suggested that active talks were being held with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.
On January 10, 2007, Real's GM Predrag Mijatovic´ revealed that the club would not be extending David's contract. Soon after, it was announced that David would join the Galaxy in July, after Madrid's final game. David's five-year deal with LA included salary, profit-sharing and endorsement money that could total $50 million a year.
Capello was furious and vowed never to play David again. He later relented, and David proved instrumental in a 23-8-7 season that found Real on top of the Spanish League when the final whistle blew. Madrid won on the last day. David was injured in the game, against Majorca, but his sub scored twice in a comeback victory.
There were some low points in the season for Real Madrid, most notably a loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League playoffs and ties with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in Spanish tournaments. Combined with David’s departure, and the earlier loss of Brazilian star Ronaldo, the black marks against Capello eventually cost him his job.
David was proud of his strong finish and Real’s dramatic championship. He was equally proud when recalled by England in May, after the national team played sluggishly in its Euro 2008 qualifying. In his comeback game, a friendly against Portugal, he set up John Terry—his successor as team captain—with a classic Beckham cross off a free kick for a goal. In his next game, a Euro 2008 qualifier against Estonia, David assisted on two goals in a 3-0 win.
On July 13, the Beckham era began for MLS. David was introduced to the fans in Los Angeles and officially joined the team. His first appearance for the Galaxy came eight days later, in a friendly against Chelsea.
American sports fans judge stars by their numbers. Without Ronaldo and Van Nistelroy at the receiving end of his delicate passes, David's numbers may not live up to expectations of the new fans he draws to MLS. But the measure of a star can be taken in other ways. Some say what one accomplishes on the field should speak for itself, while others maintain that penetrating deep into popular culture is the only way to transcend one's sport. However you look at it, David has found something a good bit beyond mere stardom. His new Hollywood address is likely to propel him to even greater heights.
DAVID THE PLAYER
Soccer can be a subtle sport, but it's not hard to see David’s considerable skills. When he gains control of the ball and surveys the field, the defense tenses and his teammates get an extra hop in their step. Everyone knows that he can deliver a pass virtually anywhere on the field and is quite capable of pressing the action himself.
Whether crossing or shooting, David’s long-distance heroics come courtesy of his devastating ball-striking ability. Soccer clubs put radar guns on kicks the way baseball scouts clock pitches, and David’s muscular right leg has generated eye-popping speeds. Many of his kicks approach 100 mph, which is no fun for a goalkeeper or defender whose job it is to stand in its way.
David's strong leg has much to do with his efficiency with free kicks. His sublime talent for making round objects bend while airborne would have a diminished effect were it not for the fact that everyone on the field freezes for a milisecond at the instant he puts boot to ball. An opponent expecting a screamer has less time to react to a Beckham bender, while a keeper who assumes a curling shot is on the way risks the humiliation of letting in an untouched goal.
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