David Beckham: Is the Star Still the Most Bankable Footballer in the World?

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David Beckham: Is the Star Still the Most Bankable Footballer in the World?
Harry How/Getty Images

David Beckham's best days as a footballer are behind him, but he remains one of the most bankable players in the game. The ex-Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan and LA Galaxy star is now looking for a new home after having played his last game for the MLS-based team.

Here, Bleacher Report examines Brand Beckham's history to see if he will remain the same bankable player for his next move. 

But make no mistake about it; football has never seen a player like David Beckham.

He isn't the best player the game has ever seen, he isn't the most talented player the game has ever seen and he certainly isn't the most skilful player the game has ever seen. He might just be, however, the hardest working player the game has ever seen—on or off the pitch.

For such a "limited player" his career has been simply incredible. 

Beckham made his début in the less auspicious background of the Goldstone Ground against Brighton and Hove Albion in September 1992.  Few would have predicted that this 17-minute cameo would be the beginning of a golden path to becoming the world's richest footballer.

From there he would go on to become an integral part of Sir Alex Ferguson's team as the Red Devils redefined English football. But it was this goal, in his second full season in 1996, that sent him on the path to stardom.

Before Beckham scored against Wimbledon, he was just another young English player with unlimited potential. After it, he was a world star in the making and advertising gold.

He was a young, good looking kid playing for the best team in England and scoring incredible goals, so he was an easy sell.

The fact that his goals were few and far between for the majority of his career did not matter—the most he ever scored in a single season was 16 in 2002—but the fact that his goal's were usually spectacular did.

By the time Beckham's relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson was beyond repair in 2003, he was one of the most powerful and famous athletes in the world.

His advertising and sponsorship deals meant that he was earning far more money outside the game than within it, and this was the main reason for the breakdown. From the very moment Ferguson said the following, there was no going back.

"He was never a problem until he got married. He used to go into work with the academy coaches at night time; he was a fantastic young lad. Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing – from that moment his life was never going to be the same. He is such a big celebrity; football is only a small part."

However, the Scot, while hating Beckham's celebrity life, did not want to understand what Real Madrid did; Beckham was the most bankable star in the game and jersey and ancillary sales make huge money.

Real bought Beckham for £25 million and signed the star up to a $31.6 million four-year contract which saw the England international claiming a cool $152,000 per week.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

One of the key elements of the Beckham to Real deal was his jersey number.

At United, the star always wore the No. 7 jersey. For Red Devils fans, this number is historic and is linked with great players of the past such as George Best, Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona—it is generally reserved for star players and, as such, is easily advertised.

The No. 7 jersey was unavailable at Madrid because club legend Raul owned that number. In time it would be inherited by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo, who also eventually inherited Beckham's No. 7 at Manchester United.

Thinking outside the box, and already planning his next move years in advance, brand Beckham chose the No. 23 and immediately linked it with Michael Jordan—one of the most famous basketball players of all time.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Within one season, Los Blancos made $24.5 million through Beckham jersey sales alone. The amazing thing about Real's jersey sales was that the No. 23 jerseys were selling like hotcakes and accounted for over 50 percent of all jersey sales during the 2003-04 season.

The Real Madrid jersey even became the highest selling non-domestic jersey in England, with sales of the kit going up a whopping 350 percent on the year before.

Over his four years with Madrid, his jersey sales remained consistently high, but, playing wise, Beckham found himself surplus to requirements under Fabio Capello. 

Ironically, Beckham only played 23 league matches in his last season with Real Madrid and most of those were as a substitute. 

While Real were "selling" Beckham as a finished player to the rest of the world in an effort at negotiating a reduced contract, the England star proved to be smarter than anyone had previously given him credit for and was also negotiating elsewhere.

As a world star whose jersey sales had run into the millions, his massive advertising deals with Adidas, Pepsi and Walt Disney, amongst others, as well as his huge brand following, allowed Beckham to negotiate a shocking deal to join the MLS.

Just one of Beckham's many advertisements.

Under the terms of the contract—"thought to be the biggest in sporting history,"—Beckham would earn an amazing $250 million salary over five years. His base salary was $6.5 million a season, but under the terms of his contract, he was entitled to a percentage of club endorsements and earnings. Overall, he would go on to earn $1 million per week.

The deal was announced on January 12, 2007, just six months before his contract ended with Real Madrid.

Capello immediately issued a statement saying that Beckham would never play for Real again. However, towards the season's end, he softened that stance and welcomed the player back as they claimed the title from Barcelona on the final day.

When the deal was initially announced Don Garber, the MLS' Commissioner, said that the move was a groundbreaking one for the sport in America.

"David Beckham coming to MLS might be viewed by some as one of the most important moments for soccer in this country and perhaps the history of professional sport.

"David transcends the sport and is a cultural icon. David is clearly one of the most recognisable athletes in the world. People are going to feel really good about David Beckham spending the rest of his career in the US."

The following morning Beckham then released his own statement.

"I'm not coming to the States to make soccer the biggest sport in America but I do think soccer has a huge, huge potential. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe in this project. This could create something that we've all never seen before."

There can be little doubt that what we've seen from Beckham's time in LA is "something that we've all never seen before."

Since Beckham joined the MLS in 2007, average club attendance rates have risen from 15,504 to 18,807 per game. Seven new franchises have joined the league during that time, with each paying an expansion fee of $10 million. Such is the interest in the MLS now that the next club, the 20th, could pay as much as $75 million, according to Forbes.

Harry How/Getty Images

Speaking on Beckham's influence on LA and the MLS in general, the Commissioner Don Garber was gushing in his praise.

"I don't think anybody would doubt that he has over delivered.

"There's arguably not a soccer fan on this planet that doesn't know the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer, and David played a significant role in helping us make that happen.

"He was an unbelievable ambassador for the league, for the Galaxy."

The move to the MLS has been more than good for brand Beckham, too.

Before 2007, as one of the most marketable sportsmen on the planet, he had partnerships with the likes of Walt Disney, Adidas and Pepsi. Since then he has added Giorgio Armani, Electronic Arts, Samsung and H & M, amongst others.

It short, the best days of his playing career are behind him, but he is more marketable than ever.

He has already been approached by two MLS clubs that want the star to take over as owner. Beckham had an option in his initial MLS contract that allowed him to become the owner of a franchise should one become available at the right price.

Paris St. Germain are probably the highest profile team to approach Beckham so far. The Qatari owned outfit would see Beckham as the ideal player to firmly put their "franchise" on the map as a major European power. Add in the fact that the World Cup is in Qatar in 2022 and you can already see their strategic plans forming around the English star.

Beckham has also received offers from Russia—World Cup hosts in 2018—China, Australia and Brazil—World Cup hosts in 2014.

Where Should Beckham Go Next?

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Above all else, Beckham is still the highest paid footballer in the world, eclipsing Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney. This is mainly because he is so accessible to the public through his intelligent use of the media, his public relations machine and his general fame through advertising.

Each and every potential club for Beckham sees more than just the player on the pitch. They see their name kinked with the companies he is linked with. In many ways, this would provide free advertising to a world market for them. To paraphrase Garber, Beckham's name alone would put them on the map.

As an icon there are very few sportsmen or women or even clubs in the world that can match David Beckham in terms of popularity. He is old-school cool combined with modern style and he has universal appeal to both men and women across every continent.

The next step in David Beckham's career will be hugely important. 

He remains as marketable as ever but will need to perform to some level to justify the inevitable huge wages that he will command. 

Given his transfers in the past, from Manchester to Madrid to Los Angeles to Milan, a potential move to the fashion capital of the world in Paris should not be ruled out—more so when you consider his wife's rising career as a fashion designer.

Moving the entire Beckham brand and clan to the French capital could potentially create a financial symbiosis between the two icons.

He is a wanted man—and he knows it—so the next move of his stellar career will be carefully mapped out.

Following his last game for the Galaxy, his coach Bruce Arena had this to say.

"Twenty years from now we are going to look at this league and still talk about David Beckham.

"Many would think it is the last chapter, I think David thinks there is another chapter."

In short, David Beckham's best days as a footballer are behind him, but he remains one of the most bankable players in the game. 

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