In many ways, David Beckham's career unfolded like a screenplay that always had the protagonist wind up on top.
The iconic Englishman announced his retirement Thursday, effective at the end of the Ligue 1 season, which his Paris Saint-Germain will conclude atop the league standings. Beckham has now won a league championship in his final season in four countries, adding his French title to ones in England (Manchester United), Spain (Real Madrid) and the USA (LA Galaxy). With every move of his carefully calculated and carried out by him and his handlers with extreme precision, it's no surprise that he bends into his final sunset as a winner.
Beckham's career and character arc were not without faults and setbacks, but he managed to right the wrongs along the way. His red card against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup threatened to cut his career as a legend way short before he restored his reputation and icon status with his free kick against Greece at Old Trafford that landed England in the 2002 World Cup. His 115 caps remain the most for an English outfield player, and though his snub from the Team GB Olympic team last summer remains a lasting international setback, he will forever go down as a legend in Three Lions lore.
The first half of his stint with the Galaxy was more notable for dysfunction, injuries, loans and exceptions to the rules. Before his time in MLS was done, though, he turned fans' venomous jeers into unconditional cheers with his performance on the field, playing integral roles in the Galaxy's two MLS Cup-winning squads and truly earning his MLS Best XI honors.
Those who assert that Beckham was more about extending his brand and collecting a paycheck missed the mark of a world-class competitor, who played through pain and for the crest on his jersey. Was he the best player on the planet at any point in his career? No, but his right-footed service remained pinpoint and unparalleled until the end -- as did his penchant for the sometimes overly tenacious tackle -- and he offered more to any team who employed him than just a spotlight-seeking celebrity who happened to don a uniform and cleats.
Along his well-traveled road, Beckham proved that MLS was not a place where flailing former greats went to pasture to play out the string, and that he could still perform on the big stage at the ripe age of 38, when he was called upon by PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti to start in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals against Barcelona.
He provided an unquantifiable lift for MLS during his six years of service in America, taking a risk in joining the burgeoning league when he could have remained in the star-studded, high-paying confines of Real Madrid. In the Beckham Era of MLS, more eyes were on the league than ever before, both on North American soil and abroad. Quality of play improved, player salaries increased and more starpower found its way to the league.
Beckham's influence on soccer on this side of the Atlantic Ocean may be far from over, too. He has evolved into the quintessential ambassador for the sport in both the UK and USA, and his career epilogue certainly figures to play out as such. As per his contract with MLS, Beckham maintains the right to buy in as an owner of a future expansion team (but not in New York City). Upon his departing the Galaxy for PSG, Beckham insisted that his time working with the game in the USA was far from over, and the genuine truth with which those words came across makes it seem like a matter of time before he shows up in an owner's box in America now that he has bent his last free kick.
As for his playing career, his Hollywood ending wound up happening in Paris instead of nearby Carson, Calif. But there was little doubt that it would happen.
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