What Chance Does Brooklyn Have of Following in Dad David Beckham's Footsteps?

Alex Dimond@alexdimondUK Lead WriterNovember 21, 2014


"I have a goal to be just the most craziest person of all time," Jaden Smith, son of actor Will Smith, said this week.

"And when I say craziest, I mean, like, I want to do like Olympic-level things. I want to be the most durable person on the planet."

Jaden Smith is 16. When his father was 16, back in 1985, he was still almost a year away from deciding to make music with childhood friend DJ Jazzy Jeff, where his own moniker—the Fresh Prince—and evident talent would almost inadvertently end up launching his hugely successful acting career, thanks initially to the hit television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

His son, however, is already well ahead of those remarkable achievements. Jaden has had sizeable roles in four big Hollywood films (two alongside his father) and is about to release his second mixtape as he dabbles with music on the side.

That is why The New York Times was so keen to interview him, along with younger sister Willow, this week, and relay his revelation that he reads "ancient texts; things that can't be pre-dated" and his observation that "school is not authentic because it ends."

As warping as it might be on the maturation of a young mind, being the son of an A-list star is nevertheless an undoubted advantage in the world of show business, where the experiences and contacts of your parents can give you a significant leg up in what can be an extremely competitive industry.

It is not a leap to suggest Jaden would not be where he already is without the encouragement and assistance of his father.

Showbiz has always been built, at least in part, on such "who-you-know as much as what-you-know" processes, of course, but can the same be said of other, perhaps more meritocratic disciplines?

Take sport, for example. While connections might help a famous son get a trial or a foot in the door, surely it is ultimately the talent of the individual that will decide how much he goes on to achieve in the game, right?

Brooklyn Beckham and his father, David, at an LA Dodgers game
Brooklyn Beckham and his father, David, at an LA Dodgers gameQuarterflash/Vantagenews.co.uk/Associated Press/Associated Press

Earlier this month, it was reported that Arsenal had agreed to sign Brooklyn Beckham to their youth setup when the teenager turns 16 in March. Twelve months later he will be eligible for a full professional contract, should the Gunners deem him deserving of such a development deal.

Brooklyn is the son of David Beckham, the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Los Angeles Galaxy star.

The Gunners reportedly fended off advances and interest from both Manchester United and Chelsea for the younger Beckham's commitment, while he has previously also trained with the likes of Fulham and Queens Park Rangers (two west London clubs relatively near the Beckham family residence).

Despite that, however, hard evidence about his footballing talent is surprisingly difficult to find. One fellow Chelsea youth player described him as "decent" when he played a match at Cobham in a training game 18 months ago, while a subsequent Under-14s game representing QPR rather surreally ended up with the referee declaring on Twitter he "had potential."

Even his position remains a question, although it is believed he is a right-sided midfielder. An unnamed source was effusive—perhaps too effusive to be truly reliable—when quoted by the Daily Star about Beckham's Arsenal deal last week:

Brooklyn is talented and he has stood out in all of the training sessions and games he has played. He has had other teams sniffing around and it was always going to be a case of when, not if, he was signed up by a big-name club ... Next summer we may see him sign a big-money deal and with Arsenal.

Brooklyn really has potential. [Arsenal manager Arsene] Wenger was impressed with his talent, his attitude and his drive to succeed.

Arsenal do not comment on any of their academy players, a sensible and common policy. Nevertheless, the hope for the club's fans is that Brooklyn will prove to be as talented as his father, who ended up gaining 115 caps for England in midfield, many of them as captain.

Even if he is not, there is always Romeo (12) and nine-year-old Cruz, the two other Beckham sons who also train with the relevant Arsenal youth age groups.

After all, they share many of the same genes as their father; they must also have the potential to be great, right? Bookmakers, it seems, have followed this line of thinking—per the Guardian last year, you could get 12-1 that Brooklyn would grow up to play football for England.

CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 01:  David Beckham #23 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates the 3-1 victory against the Houston Dynamo with sons Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz after winning the 2012 MLS Cup at The Home Depot Center on December 1, 2012 in Carson, California.
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

As logical assumptions go, it is not entirely misplaced. Most stories you read about the backgrounds of the best players in the world contain references to relatives, usually fathers, who played the game to a certain standard—passing down both that talent, acquired knowledge and enthusiasm to their offspring, giving them a head start on many of their peers.

Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, was coached by his dad, Jorge, when he first started playing the game, while Barcelona team-mate Neymar's father played the game to a semi-professional standard in Brazil.

David's own father, also called David (but known as Ted), once had trials for Leyton Orient, indicating a certain natural ability resides within the Beckham lineage. Ted was one of his son's first coaches and would spend hours with him indulging David's passion. But his son's achievements went far, far beyond anything he could have imagined.

"David had talent, but he needed someone to bring it out and I was the cog that started him off," Ted subsequently noted in a 2005 Sunday Times interview. "Any dad would have done the same."

At 14, David signed schoolboy forms with Manchester United, the club he supported, but even before that he had been welcomed into Tottenham Hotspur's centre of excellence and had impressed in trials with both Leyton Orient and Norwich City.

He signed Youth Training Scheme terms (a preliminary contract) with United shortly after he turned 16. At that point he and other members of his age group—Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt—were already being talked about in excited whispers in the corridors of the club's old training ground, the Cliff.

In comparison to that sort of progression, Brooklyn is behind the pace. His somewhat nomadic childhood—the family followed David when he went to play in Madrid and Los Angeles, only returning to London permanently when he finished up his career with Paris Saint-Germain in 2013—must surely have prevented him from staying in any youth team, or academy setup, for a sustained period of time.

Perhaps that is why, despite trial periods with both Manchester United and Chelsea, he did not actually sign terms with either of them. (The other possibility is that he was deemed not good enough, although that cannot be substantiated—and Arsenal's interest indicates that is unlikely.)

On the other hand, during his travels he will have been exposed to training methods and opportunities that most kids his age could scarcely even dream of.

Few teenagers, for example, have ever had the chance to embarrass Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a ball at their feet.

Brooklyn had that chance because his father, even at 38, was able to earn a short-term deal at PSG. That he could still play to that standard at that age was remarkable and highlighted what had perhaps been his biggest attribute all along.

As a player, David Beckham forged a reputation on his ability from set pieces and crossing situations, with his most memorable moments—the halfway-line strike against Wimbledon in 1996, the free-kick against Greece in 2001—demonstrating a technique that almost no other player in the world possessed.

This was his golden ticket, elevating him beyond a player who most observers agreed was far from special in many ways. He wasn't the quickest, the most physical or the smartest, but he could put the ball exactly where he wanted with amazing regularity.

There is little guarantee such a talent will be passed down. Johan Cruyff, the Barcelona and Ajax legend, had a brilliant footballing brain that enabled him to see the game in a different way to most others, a huge, often decisive asset to his side.

His son Jordi had a competent professional career by most standards, but he never had that same X-factor.

Jordi later told the Daily Mail:

My father is a legend and I am a mortal. ... I never had a problem with the pressure to live up to my father's achievements. It was more the media who were dreaming that my genes would be identical to my father's. To my pain, it was never like this!

Beckham's United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, was always in awe of that ability to kick a ball with such unerring precision, but he never mistook it as a gift from God.

He recognised it as the result of hours and hours of dedicated practice before, during and after training sessions.

"David Beckham is Britain's finest striker of a football not because of God-given talent," the Scot told reporters in 1999, "but because he practises with a relentless application that the vast majority of less gifted players wouldn't contemplate."

In that regard Beckham exemplified the "10,000-Hour Rule," the theory Malcolm Gladwell made famous in his book Outliers, a tome that in part argued that sustained practice (10,000 hours) enabled anyone, given the right basic circumstances, to become an expert in their chosen field.

"Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good," Gladwell wrote. "It's the thing you do that makes you good.... Achievement is talent plus preparation."

Beckham celebrates his vital equaliser against Greece
Beckham celebrates his vital equaliser against GreeceADAM BUTLER/Associated Press

Beckham has never shied away from such an evaluation of his own success. In his eponymous second autobiography, published last year, he reflected on that seminal free-kick against Greece as merely the split-second culmination of many, many similar situations in practice over the years leading up to it:

People often say that you need a lot of luck to win. But, for me, confidence comes down to preparation. When you have practised something so much that it has become a part of who you are. Second nature.

Not just the free-kicks for Manchester United; not just the free-kicks that I took for the youth teams I played for growing up in East London.

There were also the free-kicks I had taken in my back garden and at the local park with my dad, almost every one of them to send England into the World Cup finals or to win Manchester United the FA Cup. I must have taken tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. I would go to the local park, place the ball on the ground, and aim at the wire meshing over the window of a small community hut.

We kept going even when the sun had gone down, playing by the light coming out of the windows of the houses that surrounded the park. My legs would ache, but my dad always told me to keep going, to keep fighting, to keep striving.

If you had given me the choice to skip school and play from morning till night, I would have jumped at the chance.

It is whether his children have inherited this trait, then, that will perhaps define what they go on to achieve in football.

Yet their father's determination arose in part from his family's limited circumstances; the Beckhams were not exactly poor, but they were hardly living in luxury either. The opposite is now true of his children.

With so many opportunities presented to them thanks to their father's fame and success, will they be so single-minded in the pursuit of excellence in one field, particularly one so competitive?

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01:  David Beckham, Brooklyn Beckham, Romeo Beckham and Cruz Beckham attend the World premiere of 'The Class of 92' at Odeon West End on December 1, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

This is the biggest question. Romeo, for example, is already making his name in the fashion world, having been named the face of a Burberry campaign this Christmas (a job for which, it is rumoured, he was well recompensed).

It is not his first foray into the world of modelling, and one senses it might not be his last. Football and fashion are not mutually exclusive—indeed the elder Beckham went a long way to bringing the two closer together—especially in such a formative stage of a career.

Romeo is experiencing things completely alien to those of his father at the same age.

"They've got a great life set up for them," Beckham told The Times (subscription required) last year. "Obviously our boys and little girl are very lucky. But I think, as a parent, you always worry: 'Have they got the hunger that I had as a kid?'

"Kids these days, not just mine, have so many distractions.... My boys aren't just into football but baseball, basketball, American football, they're skateboarding, they're surfing. We couldn't really surf in the East End of London."

Burberry @Burberry

Romeo Beckham steps in line with a row of city gents in @Burberry tailoring http://t.co/pi7GFcTRu2

It's far too soon to make any sort of prognostications about Cruz, although there is a certain amount of pop psychology to suggest that the youngest son often ends up being a better player than his siblings, due in part to the need to try to attain their level when playing together out in the garden (this, of course, is a simplification).

He is not even 10 yet—he may not even want to be a footballer when he grows up.

We also should not ignore the potential impact of their mother, former Spice Girl Victoria, who might well influence one or more of the Beckham kids in deciding they want to do something in the performing arts or even encourage them to pursue something in a different field entirely.

Victoria, after her pop career, has gone to build up her own clothing business, despite the vast wealth she and her husband have already acquired. She told Elle last year:

I don't have to work, I need to work. ... But I have a good work ethic. David has an incredible work ethic. I want my kids to have a good work ethic. I believe you can achieve anything if you work hard enough to get it.

It is instilling this quality that will be important. Will they be able to get Brooklyn to work hard in pursuit of something he wants, when his family already has all the money and opportunities anyone could dream of? It is a test a lot of other famous sons, not unsurprisingly, have failed.

"I'm as hard on my boys as my dad was," Beckham has said. "They always ask, 'Did I play well?' I'll say, 'You did all right, could have done better.'"

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 06:  David Beckham and Victoria Beckham in the Royal Box on Centre Court before the Gentlemen's Singles Final match between Roger Federer of Switzerland and Novak Djokovic of Serbia on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Champ
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Will Brooklyn also be able to overcome the oppressive attention that comes with being the son of two famous stars? The press already shows a prurient fascination with his fledgling love life—recent outings with a young actress produced a flurry of stories—which is not something most 15-year-olds are asked to deal with.

The example of Enzo Fernandez, son of French World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane (Enzo plays under his mother's name), might be a glimpse at what is in store for Brooklyn.

Enzo, 19, only made his debut for Real Madrid's B-team last weekend, yet France's national team coach Didier Deschamps (who was Zidane's captain when France won the World Cup in 1998) has already been asked about him, and he has become a famous figure on social media.

Coral @Coral

Enzo Zidane made his Real Madrid 'B' debut at the weekend...Just like his dad! https://t.co/j0jJS3B2Gu

"Leave him alone, this is all he needs," Deschamps responded (via Reuters). "His name is hard to carry. He's just a player with a well-known name. It's never easy, and it's even less easy with his name. ... Zizou [Zidane] lived his life, had his career. Enzo will have his own."

David got where he did as a footballer through single-minded dedication; Brooklyn is already asked to deal with a great number of distractions, with many more sure to come.

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 18:  David Beckham waves to the crowd with his sons, Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz during the Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain FC and Stade Brestois 29 at Parc des Princes on May 18, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/
Michael Regan/Getty Images

When he finally retired, Beckham was asked at the announcement how he thought he would be remembered as a player.

"I just want people to see me as a hardworking footballer and someone who is passionate about the game," he said. "Every time I stepped on the pitch, I've given everything that I have because that's how I feel....that's how I look back on it, and hope people will see me."

Any inherited ability will help, but perhaps it is ultimately those qualities that will have the biggest impact on what his children go on to achieve in the game.

Most would argue that, beyond the dead-ball talents, Beckham was rather limited in terms of his natural aptitude for the game. Where he got was a result of hard work, of maximising his talents.

If that is the case, then his offspring will have to match, or even surpass, his levels of dedication to reach the same heights he did. Then again, does it really matter if they don't?

As Beckham has also said: "As long as they enjoy playing football, I don't care whether they play at professional level or Sunday league level."


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