David Beckham's Career-Defining Moments

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2013

David Beckham's Career-Defining Moments

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    After over 700 matches, 19 trophies in four countries, three World Cup campaigns and 129 goals, David Beckham has called time on his professional career.

    "I feel now is the right time to finish my career, playing at the highest level," the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star said on Thursday (via the BBC).

    As the most famous footballer in the world hangs up his boots, here are six defining moments from his 20 years in the game.

The 50-Yard Lob

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    Despite Alan Hansen's infamous "You can't win anything with kids" proclamation, part of Sir Alex Ferguson's genius was his faith in Manchester United's youth in the 1990s.

    Among "Fergie's Fledglings" was a handsome young man named David Beckham. The floppy-haired midfielder was part of the title-winning side of 1995-96, but it wasn't until the opening day of the 1996-97 season that he made his first indelible mark.

    Spotting the Wimbledon goalkeeper off his line late in the second half, Beckham attempted an audacious 50-yard lob.

    For Dons fans, it was the miserable icing on a 3-0 loss (I know this, because I was one of them at Selhurst Park that day!), but for Beckham, it was the start of a career destined for greatness.

    The moment was voted 18th in a 2002 poll of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments, and that season Beckham won a regular place in a dominant United side.

The 1998 World Cup Red Card

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    Despite his prominence with Manchester United, Beckham didn't make the England squad until after Euro 96.

    Becks played in all of England's qualifying matches for the 1998 World Cup, but when the tournament came around, he was dropped for the first two group matches.

    Later, he would accuse manager Glenn Hoddle of making him feel "sick" with disappointment for this (via The Sun), but it was the nation's turn to be disappointed in the midfielder in the Round of 16 match against Argentina.

    Shortly after Javier Zanetti scored an equalising goal, Beckham was fouled by Diego Simeone. As he laid face first on the field, Beckham kicked Simeone in retaliation. Even though Simeone made a meal of it, the kick was a petulant act that earned Beckham a red card.

    When England were subsequently eliminated in a penalty shootout (how else would they be eliminated?!), Beckham became public enemy No. 1. He was booed at every stadium he visited with United the following season, and there were even reports of death threats and Beckham effigies being hung in the streets.

    It took three years for Beckham to redeem himself in an England shirt.

Winning the Treble

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    In the hysteria that followed the 1998 World Cup, it was thought Beckham may move abroad to escape persecution. But having instead become a part of the most successful Manchester United side of all time in the 1998-99 season, one has to suspect he is glad he stayed.

    Beckham scored against Spurs on the final day of the season to help the Red Devils win their 12th league title, and one week later he was part of a team that won the penultimate FA Cup final at the old Wembley Stadium.

    Four days after the FA Cup win, one of the most memorable evenings in modern football history occurred at the Nou Camp.

    Manchester United had twice failed to beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stages, and when they were 1-0 down at the end of normal time, things looked bleak. But, of course, we all know what happened next.

    With Beckham switching to a central midfield role from the wing in the final, United became the first English side to win the treble, and Alex Ferguson subsequently received his knighthood.

The Free-Kick Against Greece

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    Beckham was England captain for most of the 2002 World Cup qualification campaign—which included a famous 5-1 victory over Germany in Munich—that culminated in a match against Greece at Old Trafford.

    England needed a single point to automatically qualify for the finals but were trailing 2-1 in injury time, with most Three Lions fans resigned to more national team disappointment.

    In the dying seconds, however, Beckham struck one of his trademark free-kicks straight into the top-left corner of the net.

    It was one of the most joyful moments this generation of England fans has experienced, and it marked his transition from World Cup villain to hero. 

Becoming a Galactico

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    In 2003, the relationship between Ferguson and Beckham had soured, perhaps due to an incident in which the fiery Scot kicked a football boot at his face.

    Barcelona president Joan Laporta had promised to bring Becks to Catalunya, but he ended up signing for their fierce rivals in Madrid.

    He was the third Englishman to play for Los Blancos (behind Laurie Cunningham and Steve McManaman) and became part of a star-studded squad that included Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Raul and plenty more.

    Although the four seasons he spent with Madrid were relatively unsuccessful for the Spanish giants, he scored 20 goals in 155 appearances and lifted the La Liga trophy in his final season.

    Four months before this dalliance with Spanish silverware, however, it had been announced that the world's most famous footballer was moving to the United States. 

Coming to America

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    Beckham may have been 32 years old in the summer of 2007, but it was completely unprecedented for a player of his stature to move to MLS.

    While some believed it to be an excuse to cash in while playing in a league that would be easier on him in the autumn years of his career, Beckham insisted the move was one born from a desire to improve and popularize the game in the U.S.

    "I'm coming there not be a superstar," he said at the time. "I'm coming there to make a difference."

    He certainly was a superstar, and his stateside fame helped bring sponsorship, fans and some much-needed acclaim to the relatively young professional league.

    The impossible battle of bringing football into the fray with other American sports ultimately wasn't successful during Beckham's five-and-a-half years in Los Angeles, but he did win back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2011 and 2012. 

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