Let's face it, David Beckham is the most well-known footballer on the planet, and if anyone can claim to be 'The' ambassador for lo Joga Bonito—believe it or not, he's the one.
Having appeared on the famous covers of numerous and especially, diverse magazines like Men's Health, Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair, and yes, even the odd football magazine, he is undoubtedly the face many will associate with football worldwide, from Japan to America to England and back. If ever there was one man who could surely make that envious claim, sadly, it is he.
How could it of come to this?! How did David Beckham become football's global face? Well first let's examine the man.
Having played for the three biggest clubs in the three biggest football leagues in world football (Man Utd, Real Madrid, and now AC Milan) and having, on paper, a career many would die for (6 PLs, 1 CL, 2 FA Cups, La Liga, English Football Hall of Fame), Beckham has also received a ludicrous amount of public and civilian awards and honours (among them an OBE, Time 100 - 2008, 'Britain's Greatest Ambassador', UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador).
International football community recognition however has been lukewarm, especially in comparison to his status in the game as its most famous son. An appearance in Pele's FIFA 100 (something a contemptuous retard like El Hadji Diouf made it into, now of Blackburn, formerly of Sunderland and Bolton) and an American ESPY award or two aside, his notable achievements in this area have been two runners-up spots in the FIFA world player (1999, 2001) and a UEFA European competition club footballer of the year award in 1999 (Was he really that singularly indispensable to United's European Cup victory that season? Roy Keane might disagree, but thats another debate.)
I know football is a team game and someone could well counter that it is only team achievements that matter (and on that regard Beckham does well) but if an individual footballer is worth $250m over five years, you would think he would have the badges and individual accolades to prove it.
Besides, the idea that individuals don't matter is passe and the theory one man cannot create a team is more than arguable (for example see: Maradonna winning Argentina the 1986 WC, or a list of Steven Gerrard led miracle Liverpool victories). God knows many other lesser lights have won many team awards as 'passengers' for all intents and purposes (we're looking at you Phil Neville, Winston Bogarde, Dida, Geremi etc)—whether Beckham has been what I like to call a passenger or an instigator through his career is yet another debate.
Perhaps the most explicit point to be made here about the man is that at no point in Beckham's admittedly glittering career would I or, I suspect, most people, have classified David as the best player in the world, nevermind of his generation.
This is where the myth of Beckham comes into play in understanding his overwhelming fame.
David and Victoria Beckham have been Britain's golden tabloid couple for at least a decade now. As former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson once commented, he kept David Beckham as captain from Peter Taylor's caretaker reign because 'he was the most famous and well known' (Well gee, I guess England internationals shouldn't have to put up with a captain nobody really knows about).
The myth, which I will later call the brand, centres around phrases and watchwords like 'metrosexuality', 'the modern man', 'the golden boy of his generation' (or goldenballs, if you prefer), 'international superstar' and of course 'Posh & Becks'.
Towards the end of Beckham's Manchester United career, even Sir Alex Ferguson had begun to think the David Beckham on his books was a doppleganger popstar as opposed to the typical elite footballer he had become adept at dealing with.
David Beckham has been mentioned in the same breath as the words 'pioneer' and 'saviour' when it comes to 'soccer' in America. However, even the most optimistic prognosis has deemed Beckham's long term impact on promoting the American game over his two-year sojourn as minimal. In fact if anything I would (and will) argue that Beckham has done more to promote himself during his stay there.
Likewise visions of screaming teenage Asian girls at airports and sultry black and white photos of him in my sister's bedroom (and lets admit it, most of our sister's bedrooms) highlight his sex appeal. (If only Beckham was really a drug dealer, my sister would profess an undying love for the man.) No doubt Beckham's looks have added to the caricature of the 'perfect man' and allowed many female fans more opportunity to buy into the myth.
It is at international level however where the myth of David Beckham really comes into play. David Beckham is set to break the great Bobby Moore's outfield England record—but unlike Moore, Beckham as captain or squad member has never come close to emulating his achievements on the pitch, and most certainly not a World Cup.
Free kick against Greece aside, many of Beckham's most memorable events in a Three Lions shirt have been infamous or disappointing.
His penalty slip/miss (which resulted in the guy sitting in row Q becoming a millionaire selling the ball at auction), his red card against Argentina ('10 lions, one stupid boy') are just some of the notorious landmarks in his career history.
But surely even the myth, even combined with the man cannot explain Beckham's phenomenal fame and prestige. There seems to be a design behind it all. An intelligent career path if you will.
Yes, the factor that makes Beckham stand out more than anything else is his brilliant sense of self as a brand: David Beckham the Market-eer!
David Beckham is unlike any other footballer in the world, he and his agents take great care in choosing the brands and people he is associated with. Whether it be club brands (Man Utd, Real Madrid, AC Milan), consumer brands (Gilette, Pepsi) and of course own brands (Beckham's Instinct).
Even his wife 'Posh Spice' was a famous popstar/brand in her own right as part of the Spice Girls and it is thus together they often appear in media.
Beckham is the richest footballer in history of the game, and in his prime one of the most in demand, not least because his own personal media machine has guaranteed shirt sales for any club that employs him.
Numerous magazine articles, column inches, photoshoots and books, biographies and web pages have been dedicated to him. Even a damn movie was made about him (remember Kiera Knightly in Bend it Like Beckham).
The man was even among the first to sell his own wedding in an exclusivity deal with OK! magazine. Beckham's market-eering is so successful that anyone who knows not much to anything about football would think he was the stand out athlete of the game.
Even before Beckham settled in Los Angeles, an A-list welcoming party involving the biggest names in the movie business was et up for him. We can only guess Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey don't watch much 'soccer' so why the big deal?
David Beckham has made himself the big deal by making good endorsement and career decisions. To all purposes Beckham seems a personally likable and agreeable fellow, something many of his contemporaries have pointed out. This has especially helped in terms of collaboration with other marketers and businessmen. The fact Beckham hails from an English speaking country with an advanced media industry has also helped in 'spreading the word in the civilised world'.
All cynicism aside do you really think Real Madrid bought became because he was truly a world-class footballer, do you really think Milan expected Beckham to perform well before they brought him into the club having spent two years in the inferior standard of the MLS?
The fact he has performed decently (so far) has actually been a bonus for Berlusconi on top of the much needed publicity and t-shirt sales AC Milan and Serie A crave.
Yes David Beckham is both a pioneer and a marketer in the world of football. He is a Market-eer. He has done something George Best failed to do as the fifth Beatle, Ronaldinho/Zidane etc failed to do as world-class footballers and as Freddie Ljungberg has only done in photoshoots-he has become an enduring brand that will last long after his footballing career.
Perhaps the greatest testament for the market-eer David Beckham (tm) is the hour I've now spent writing about a footballer with average pace, poor dribbling, non-existent heading abilities, bad ball control in close quarters, a weak left foot, and a unique need to hit the guy in row Q with a penalty.