On Thursday, David Beckham announced that when the French League One soccer season ends, he will retire.
As if they’d been eagerly anticipating that news, some soccer writers and commentators began chirping about how David Beckham had never been much of a player.
They are wrong.
As they say in England, he was grand, even brilliant at what he did best. He provided his teammates with passes so precise that those teammates almost couldn’t miss the net, and his free kicks curled and dipped in ways that defied the efforts of goal-keepers, if not quite the laws of physics.
David Beckham played on teams that won titles in the top leagues in England, Spain, the U.S., and France. He made 115 appearances for England’s national side.
His work ethic led his coach with the L.A. Galaxy, Bruce Arena, to say, “he’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever coached.”
He’s the only player ever to have been honored in Tokyo with a 10-foot high chocolate statue of himself, and also to have had his name in the title of a movie about young women determined to exceed family and cultural expectations. He may be the most recognizable athlete on the planet. That’s the result of canny marketing and qualities that have enabled Beckham to appeal to all sorts of people, but soccer is the platform from which that appeal was launched, and he’d hardly have sold all those jerseys and all that underwear if he hadn’t been a consistently effective and durable player.
Maybe he “put Major League Soccer on the map,” as Arena suggested on Thursday. But even soccer fans who regard that claim as extravagant should be appreciative of what David Beckham has done for their game.