Beyond football

David Beckham will be best remembered for putting the celebrity in sports

There was once a time when David Beckham was an integral part of the Manchester United side that dominated the English Premier League in the 1990s, and an important constituent of the national team's midfield. But that is all too easy to forget as he hangs up his boots. His not inconsiderable skills as a footballer were too often eclipsed by his second, probably more lucrative, career as sports' go-to glamour boy. His boy-band looks and marriage to a Spice Girl drew more attention than his on-field exploits, which were sometimes unfairly maligned for no more reason than his being one half of the tabloid catnip that was Posh and Becks.

His retirement doesn't mark the departure of a true great, a la former teammates Zinedine Zidane or even Ronaldo. Yet, he won several titles, including the treble in 1998-99, and played for three of Europe's biggest clubs, United, Real Madrid and AC Milan. His dead-ball brilliance sometimes changed the course of a game. But though Beckham's remarkably accurate crosses and violently curving free kicks will be missed, it says something that they were best immortalised in the movie Bend it like Beckham.

In his fame, Beckham transcended his game. He became an all-purpose celebrity, one of the first in sport. His popularity extended even to America, where football — rather, soccer — is little more than a boring European import. More, as the perfect canvas for global brands to project their wares on, Beckham challenged the conception of what it means to be a male sportstar. With his ever-changing haircuts, his flamboyant and fashionable sense of style and unapologetic embrace of his gay following, he embodied the "metrosexual" construct of his times. The traditional image of the hard-living, macho sporting hero was overtaken by Beckham's new style of masculinity.

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