David Beckham, at one time, was perhaps the most recognisable man on earth. He still is, to some extent, one of the most famous faces in the world and whilst the former Manchester United midfielder may have transcended the game to a new celebrity status, he was also an exquisite footballer.
The latest instalment of our Golazo Merchants series revisits the story of ‘Golden Balls’ himself, a footballer who appealed to the masses through a combination of his boyband good looks, celebrity partner and a right foot responsible for some of the most iconic moments in Premier League history.
Beckham was a player who seemed destined for superstardom from his very formative years, announcing himself to the footballing world in spectacular style – more on that later – before embarking on an incredible career trajectory that incorporated some huge highs and some unforgettable lows.
This is the story of David Beckham, one of the Premier League’s great Golazo Merchants:
Beckham was born and raised in Leytonstone, East London, his sights set on becoming a professional footballer from a young age and his precocious talent saw him have trials at Leyton Orient and Norwich before a spell in the youth system at Tottenham.
Tottenham’s hopes of bringing the youngster through their ranks were scuppered soon after, however, as Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United made an approach for the teenager, one that was welcomed given Beckham’s boyhood affection for the Red Devils.
He moved north and signed schoolboy forms, where he found himself amongst an exciting contingent of talent in the club’s youth side, forming part of a collection of players who would win the FA Youth Cup in 1992.
That side – including the likes of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt – would help provide the first-team foundations for a golden era, with Paul Scholes and Phil Neville also forming the Red Devils’ home-grown backbone.
Soon after Beckham was handed his senior debut in a League Cup clash against Brighton, though with a fight to force his way into a side that had dominated the early years of the newly formed Premier League, he moved to Preston North End on loan in 1994/95 in search of regular first-team football.
The set-piece specials that would define his career were quickly on show following his temporary switch to the third tier, scoring directly from a corner and netting twice in five games for Preston.
Beckham was handed a handful of appearances as United finished as runners-up in 1994/95, before finding regular first-team football the following season, the departures of senior stars including Mark Hughes and Paul Ince handing Fergie’s Fledgings an opportunity to shine.
It was a chance the young players grasped as the Red Devils overturned a huge deficit to secure the league title, capitalising on a collapse from league leaders Newcastle to win the Premier League, before completing a domestic double with victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup final.
Beckham made 40 appearances across all competitions and scored eight goals, including the winner in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Villa Park, and the club’s successes were the first of many that would follow in the coming seasons.
Whilst the midfielder had shown huge potential, it was the opening day of the 1996/97 season that truly catapulted the emerging star into the consciousness of the footballing world.
The defending champions travelled to face Wimbledon at Selhurst Park, with Beckham in confident mood having netted one and created two more in the 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle in the Charity Shield.
The game proved largely uneventful as Ferguson’s side made light work of their South London opposition, goals from Eric Cantona and Denis Irwin putting the visitors in control on a sun-soaked afternoon in the capital.
Unremarkable to say the least, until a truly remarkable piece of genius from Beckham’s right boot.
There appeared little danger in added time as Brian McClair prodded a ball into the path of the youngster, several strides inside his own half and looking up at the picture around him.
Still inside his own half, Beckham lifted his head and, spotting Neil Sullivan off his line, launched an effort so sweet that it whistled over the goalkeeper’s head and hit the back of the net without the ball ever touching the ground.
It was outrageous and audacious and a goal that Beckham admits changed his life forevermore.
The goal was a strike few had ever seen before in English football and even in the years since there have been goals with only vague similarities, nothing quite comparing to Beckham’s brilliant execution of flawless technique.
"It changed my life. The ball seemed to be in the air for hours and it all went quiet… then the ball went in and it just erupted. I was on cloud nine."#OnThisDay in 1996, David Beckham scored that iconic goal against Wimbledon. pic.twitter.com/tzggpBfel1
— MUNDIAL (@MundialMag) August 17, 2020
Beckham was beginning to grow in stature as Ferguson’s academy graduates flourished at the highest level, the champions proving the team to beat once more despite an indifferent start to the season,
The 21-year-old netted in a draw with Derby before scoring the winner against Liverpool at Old Trafford, and as the festive period began produced another magical moment as the Red Devils headed to West Ham.
The performance was one to forget for Manchester United as they squandered a two-goal lead to draw in the capital, but Beckham’s improvised finish to double their advantage lives long in the memory.
Found unattended on the edge of the penalty area, Beckham takes two touches. One to steady, a second to move the ball out just enough from underneath his feet, before executing a wonderful chipped finish with his third as two West Ham defenders desperately bid to close down the shooting chance.
Beckham’s legacy is often remembered as a player with sensational technique, but his incredible ability to strike a ball was honed from hours and hours on the training pitch, possessing an incredible desire to improve through repetition.
Nothing demonstrated his mastering of the trade better than the free-kick, the facet of his game that would come to define him and a style which many a child attempted to copy in playgrounds across the world.
No tribute to Beckham – the most successful free-kick taker in Premier League history – would be complete without at least one set-piece special, our first offering this trademark effort at Liverpool which rendered David James utterly baffled.
David Beckham with a signature freekick against Liverpool at Anfield, 1997.pic.twitter.com/AnzyAO2FI2
— Manchester United Clips (@ManUtdClip) September 10, 2020
That stunning strike at Anfield came during a 1997/98 season that saw the Red Devils relinquish the Premier League title to an Arsenal side thriving under new manager Arsene Wenger, but the following campaign saw United bounce back in some style.
Beckham himself headed into the new campaign in a difficult place, his sending off against Argentina having contributed towards England’s exit at the 1998 World Cup, seeing the midfielder vilified and making the Manchester United man public enemy number one.
After finding himself in the headlines for the wrong reasons, Beckham formed part of a side seeking to make an impression on the Champions League after reaching the semi-finals and quarter-finals in the past two campaigns, though United were drawn in a nightmare group containing both Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
The three sides competed fiercely for a position in the knockout stages, with the Red Devils’ two clashes with Barcelona both resulting in pulsating 3-3 draws, the first of which came in the competition’s opening game.
An end-to-end game saw the home side race into a two-goal lead through Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, only to see the Catalans fight back as Sonny Anderson and a Giovani penalty restored parity.
Enter Beckham, who after executing an almost identical effort against Colombia at that summer’s World Cup, whipped this sublime set piece over the Barcelona wall and into the top corner to see the Old Trafford support erupt.
David Beckham vs Barcelona, 1998. #Classic90sCLMoments pic.twitter.com/MCeCiceyNZ
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) August 23, 2020
Sadly it proved not to be the winner as Barcelona equalised through a second penalty, though United emerged through the Group of Death in what proved a defining campaign for both player and club.
United continued to progress in league, cup and Europe, an incredible campaign seeing Ferguson’s side lose just four of 62 games across each of the competitions, securing a historic treble success.
Beckham was at the heart of the club’s success scoring nine goals and providing 17 assists, including this wondrous free-kick against Aston Villa in early May as the title race went down to the wire.
Arsenal and United were going head-to-head in the final stages of the campaign, and this Beckham blockbuster secured a vital three points that would prove crucial as the club were crowned champions by the narrowest of margins.
Free-kick takers tend to have a preferred side, but with Beckham it barely mattered, his ability to bend the ball at an astonishing pace making him a threat from almost any area within 35 yards of goal.
👀 David Beckham with a free-kick just outside the box…
…You know what happens next 🤩#GoalOfTheDay @ManUtd pic.twitter.com/6FmY4cCk08
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 20, 2020
Beckham delivered again when it mattered most on the final day of the season against Tottenham, the league leaders needing to win to guarantee title success with Arsenal just a point behind.
United had fallen behind to a Les Ferdinand effort when Beckham restored parity with the north London visitors, found in space down the inside-right channel by Paul Scholes.
Beckham had a unique and unrivalled technique and this was a strike that had his signature stamp upon it, whipped into the far corner as if the side netting was a burly centre-forward awaiting an appetising cross.
Bruno Fernandes' goal against Everton has been compared by many to Eric Cantona's vs Sunderland, but the better comparison is surely David Beckham's wonderfully placed finish against Spurs in 1999.
— 90s Football Faithful (@FootyFaithful_) February 7, 2021
Andy Cole’s winner assured United were crowned as champions for the fifth time in just seven seasons, whilst Beckham’s long-range stunner against Arsenal in the last four also aided the Red Devils progress into the FA Cup final.
Newcastle were beaten at Wembley to seal a third domestic double, with Bayern Munich awaiting in the Champions League final as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side chased unprecedented history in the Catalonia showpiece.
The sides had shared two draws in the group stages and this was another tense affair, though the Germans – chasing their own unique treble – were the better side for much of the contest and led heading into stoppage-time courtesy of Mario Balser’s free-kick.
The rest, as they say, is history.
United scored twice in stoppage time from Beckham corners as Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sealed the most dramatic of final successes, United crowned as champions of Europe for just the second time and the first since 1968.
Beckham’s performances during the campaign saw him named as runner-up for both the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards, capping a remarkable redemption arc from his World Cup nightmare just the previous year.
Arguably at the peak of his powers across the turn of the millennium, the Manchester United star finished as the leading assist provider in the Premier League three times in just four seasons, whilst his penchant for the spectacular continued with a number of stellar strikes.
Our latest offering comes from a Champions League encounter against Real Madrid in 2000, Beckham showing a fleet of foot to dance around three challenges before lashing a powerful finish into the roof of the net.
When David Beckham embarrassed the Real Madrid defense.. 😍🔥
— Football Tekkers (@BallTekkers) March 8, 2021
Beckham’s catalogue of classic strikes was enhanced in the coming years with further fabulous free-kicks and long-range efforts, a delightful dink at West Ham during the 2001/02 season fondly remembered by the Old Trafford faithful.
The most iconic goal of his career perhaps came in England colours as a last-minute free-kick secured the Three Lions’ place at the 2002 World Cup finals, a wondrous effort of technique which cemented the then captain into the country’s footballing folklore.
By now Beckham had transcended the sport and was a bonafide celebrity superstar, a status that would fracture his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson as the spotlight burned a little too brightly for the manager’s liking.
After 394 appearances he moved on to Real Madrid in a £23m deal in 2003, becoming the Spanish side’s latest Galactico signing and joining the likes of Zinedine Zidane, OG Ronaldo and Luis Figo at a club whose glitz and glamour matched his own celebrity lifestyle.
Beckham was a success in Spain, both as a marketer’s dream and as a footballing asset, winning the Spanish league title in his final season before heading fittingly for the Hollywood Hills and LA Galaxy.
Loan spells with AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain completed a career spent at some of world football’s biggest names, though the finest football of Beckham’s storied success came in the colours of his boyhood side.
Beckham the brand has dominated headlines with his fame reaching unprecedented heights at its peak, but it is Beckham the footballer who should be most revered having helped take Manchester United to incredible success.
Beckham’s right foot became a national treasure in itself, a wand of a boot responsible for some glorious goals in the career of a Premier League Golazo Merchant.
Read – Golazo Merchants: Wayne Rooney and 15 years of Premier League screamers
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