Apart from being world-class athletes and global icons, until now, there have not been many parallels between Roger Federer and David Beckham’s careers. However, both men are drawing towards the latter stages of their professional careers in very similar manners.
Federer played the first round of the Dubai Open earlier today and began shakily. The 31-year-old dropped the first set, 5-7, after being broken by wild-card player Malek Jaziri. Unsurprisingly, the Swiss came back swiftly to win the second set 6-0, and the third set 6-2.
Beckham made his debut for Paris Saint-Germain yesterday, spending most of his time on the bench. But subbed in for the last 15 minutes, the 37-year-old played a key role in setting up PSG’s second goal and was voted the fans’ man of the match (via goal.com).
Federer and Beckham’s performances are always under intense scrutiny, because they have consistently played at such a high level. As they have aged, these expectations have often led to disappointment and criticism. Their performances in the last two days have shown that they are no longer the same athletes. There was a time when Beckham starting on the bench was as unthinkable as Federer losing a first set to an unseeded player. Times have changed.
What both men proved, however, is that they still have plenty to offer. Beckham’s performance was top-class, albeit very brief. And Federer immediately pulled back a set, going on to win in an hour and a half.
After Beckham’s contract with the LA Galaxy ended, there was ceaseless speculation about his next move. He made international headlines when announcing he had signed with PSG—for five months. The short duration renders the announcement hardly news. No matter how great the former England captain’s impact, any difference he makes will hardly last half a season. Strategically, though, Beckham’s contract makes sense. Signing shorter contracts will help to preserve the footballer’s body, and signing with new clubs often will keep him relevant in the football world.
Federer similarly has pared down his playing days. The world No. 2’s schedule is noticeably less packed than it has been in previous years. Federer has explained that the decision to cut out tournaments is to accommodate more family time and to keep his body from wearing out. Federer and Beckham cannot play as often as they used to or at the same level, which is why it is imperative that they take every measure possible to extend their playing days.
Where Federer and Beckham share the most common ground is the reorganization of their careers. Both have successfully built brands around their images and continue to grow them by playing at a high level (when they could have easily retired).
While they have different personas, Beckham and Federer both have capitalized on their marketability. Beckham has been criticized for being too image oriented (perhaps his numerous underwear campaigns have been the root of the problem), too commercial, and borderline banausic. Federer has not faced the same criticism, though he has one of the most unbelievable endorsement profiles in sports. Their different images can explain the varied responses (CreditSuisse is certainly not Armani).
Federer should not receive more criticism—that’s not what I am trying to argue for. But Federer and Beckham are essentially doing the same thing, and neither should be criticized for extending his influence in sports to a larger audience. An athlete’s career is short lived, and brand building is an astute business move.
Beckham and Federer are setting themselves up for life after their professional careers are over, but at the present, they continue to play fairly regularly. It is a remarkably interesting time to be a spectator. Both men have shifted their attention away, somewhat, from their games for the sake of their health and families. But when they are competing, their commitment is unquestionable and their will to win as strong as ever.
Continuing to play is evidence of love for the game. At this point, playing their respective sports is probably the least lucrative aspect of their careers. Federer made $1.8 million winning Wimbledon last summer (via yahoo), which is no small sum, but in comparison to his 5-year Moët and Chandon deal ($30 million), it’s not hard to tell where he’s really making a profit. Beckham is generously donating his PSG salary to a children’s charity (via Forbes), though some cynics believe it is for tax reasons rather than munificence. Beckham is no stranger to disparaging criticism and controversy.
It should be noted that at world No. 2, Federer is hardly in an unenviable position. It is a testament to the unprecedentedly high standards he has set for himself that anything other than No. 1 (which he achieved last year) is considered below average. Beckham, at 37, is relying more and more on his legend and less on his current abilities. Neither athlete would claim to be at his peak, which makes it all the more incredible that both can still compete with ever stronger up-and-comers in what are both increasingly physical games.