- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2006

David Beckham is probably one soccer player many Americans have heard of, in addition to Pele and Freddy Adu. The English star is quite possibly the most famous soccer player in the world and easily the biggest earner.

Recently, I waded through Beckham’s autobiography: “Beckham: Both Feet on the Ground” (384 pages, HarperCollins, $24.95) and found it an intriguing read, probably because Beckham has so much to write about. There never seems to be a dull moment in Beckham’s colorful career. You could say he was destined for greatness. When he was just 10, he won a national skills competition and earned a week’s training session with Spanish giant Barcelona.

It’s a dream story: A lower-middle class London lad — small for his age — who wants to play for mighty Manchester United and emulate his hero Bryan Robson, who captained England.

Beckham, 30, achieved these goals and more. But on the way, he found himself embroiled in one controversy after another.

He won plenty of silverware with Manchester United. He married Victoria Adams — Posh Spice of the pop group Spice Girls — and in 2003, Beckham was traded to the world’s glamour club, Real Madrid. According to Forbes.com, he earned $32.5million last year (counting endorsements), more than any other soccer player.

Beckham is a likable guy, and adored worldwide, especially in Asia. The sale of his No.23 shirt has helped boost Madrid’s profits. But the photogenic Beckham does have a notorious reckless streak. He’s the only player to have received two red cards playing for England — one as team captain.

Beckham was a part of the amazing 1992 youth team at Manchester United, which produced Gary and Philip Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Keith Gillespie, Robbie Savage and Ryan Giggs.

He first made headlines when he scored a stunning goal against Wimbledon from the halfway line in 1996. Soon he was playing for the national team at the 1998 World Cup in France. Then came the worst moment in his career: In a nail-biting game against Argentina, with the score tied at 2-2, Beckham was ejected for a stupid foul. England lost in the penalty shootout and Beckham was blamed for dooming England’s chances.

Twenty-four hours after the Argentina fiasco, Beckham had fled the media storm and found refuge at Madison Square Garden in New York, where his future wife was performing with the Spice Girls. It was the beginning of his love affair with the USA.

“I love the States,” he says. “I love the patriotism, the way of life.”

Back home in England the headlines blared “TEN HEROIC LIONS, ONE STUPID BOY.”

“The media reaction was way over the top: it was a soccer match that had brought all this on, after all,” writes Beckham, forgetting coach Bill Shankly’s famous adage “Football is not a matter of life and death, it’s far more important than that!”

Beckham admits he wasn’t focused at the World Cup in France. His girlfriend was pregnant, and he was having a hard time relating to England coach Glenn Hoddle. But Beckham was able to redeem himself and score the goal that doomed Argentina at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.

Back home in England, the 2002-2003 season at United was his last and worst. First, he was informed by Scotland Yard that a crime gang’s attempt to kidnap his children had been foiled. Then his relationship with coach Alex Ferguson broke down and culminated in a locker room incident in which Ferguson kicked a cleat at Beckham, cutting the player just above his eye. Beckham went after Ferguson.

“Suddenly it was like some mad scene out of a gangster movie, with them holding me back as I tried to get to the boss,” Beckham says.

One thing that didn’t make the headlines, was the divorce of his parents at that time. Hardly a page goes by in the book where Beckham is not heaping praise on his parents, who were devoted to him at every stage of his career. Their divorce hit him hard.

While he has his critics — some say he is a one-dimensional player — Beckham is arguably one of the best crossers of the ball and a talented taker of free kicks.

The book gets a little gaudy when Beckham details the preparations for his lavish wedding at an Irish castle, organized by a man called Peregrine Armstrong-Jones, who was “pretty upper-upper but a really lovely bloke.”

They sat on thrones at the head of the wedding table. After all, this is a lad who wore a page boy outfit with knickerbockers at his sister’s wedding, and loved it.

The question now, is can Beckham crown the closing years of his career by leading England to the 2006 World Cup final?

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