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Becks not the best, but most influential

Frank Malley admits David Beckham is not the greatest player to have pulled on a football shirt - but is arguably the most influential.

Last Updated: 17/05/13 at 13:38 Post Comment

David Beckham: Waving goodbye to the beautiful game

David Beckham: Waving goodbye to the beautiful game

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David Beckham is not the greatest player to pull on a football shirt.

He is not up there with Pele and George Best and Maradona and Lionel Messi when it comes to shimmering talent with a ball at his feet.

But when Beckham retires at the end of the season football will lose its most famous and influential character.

It will lose the only man capable of making shirts walk off shelves from Manchester to Madrid to Los Angeles to Beijing to any part of the globe where the most popular game on the planet is played.

Beckham, with his good looks, amiable nature and film star lifestyle, has done more to nurture football in developing nations than any player who ever lived. But at 38, with the legs having struggled to keep up with his sharp footballing mind for a few years now, he has made the right decision to quit. Let's applaud that first and foremost.

Then let us celebrate the career of a man who, despite his phenomenal wealth and his keen eye to promote the 'Beckham brand', has always given the impression he played football for fun.

There are those who will attempt to denigrate the career of the man from Leytonstone who ended up among the Hollywood set in Los Angeles.

They will say his career was a triumph of style over substance. They will trot out that old insult when Best was asked to sum up Beckham.

"He can't kick with his left foot, he can't head, he can't tackle, and he doesn't score many goals. Apart from that, he's all right," said Best.

Funnily enough, that was all true to a point, except that it did not do justice to Beckham, a man who made his extraordinary talent at kicking a football go a long, long way.

Has there ever been a better deliverer of a dead ball at corners and free-kicks? It is doubtful. Has there ever been a winger who could swing in the most savage of deliveries without ever beating a defender? Again it is doubtful.

The fact is that Beckham made things happen on a football field for Manchester United, Real Madrid and even Los Angeles Galaxy in America.

Who could forget his Premier League goal from inside his own half for United against Wimbledon, the strike which set him apart as a future superstar?

Who could forget him leaving United with a plaster hiding a wound after a flying boot launched in the dressing room by an irate Sir Alex Ferguson had caught him above an eye?

Controversy followed Beckham just as closely as success stuck to him.

Never more so than in an England shirt.

If you needed a role model for patriotism and what representing your country involves then you need look no further than Beckham's sublime performance against Greece when he single-handedly dragged England to a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford to ensure qualification for the 2002 World Cup. Beckham's trademark free-kick in the last minute, a goal which regularly tops polls among England's fans for the national team's most important strike, rescued then-manager Sven Goran-Eriksson from humiliation. It was the way Beckham as captain led the team by lung-bursting example that day, however, which revealed the lion-hearted nature which was so at odds with the hair slides and sarongs he wore.

Yet while Beckham played 115 times for England, a record for an outfield player, in truth his national service is full of gremlins.

Some say his sending off for a sly flick of the boot at Argentina's Diego Simeone in Saint Etienne cost England the chance of winning the 1998 World Cup.

He paid a high price for that, with his effigy being burned in some parts of his homeland, and it is to his credit that he survived such vilification.

Less to his credit was the fact that he went to successive World Cups in Japan and Germany less than 100 per cent fit.

The sight of him jumping out of a tackle on the halfway line at the Escopa stadium in Shizuoka to allow Brazil to break clear and score an equalising goal through Rivaldo, which subsequently dumped England out at the quarter-final stage of another World Cup, is still clear in the mind.

Yet so is the memory of asking a group of Japanese youngsters who they wanted to win that World Cup and receiving the chant: 'David Beckham'.

Or asking a middle-aged woman did she speak English? There came the same answer: 'David Beckham'. Beckham at his best spanned nationalities, cultures and gender. He brought football to the teeming masses.

It is not a bad thought to warm your heart in your retirement.

By Frank Malley, PA Sport

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