International soccer star and professional celebrity David Beckham on Thursday announced he'll be retiring after this season, putting an end to one of the most storied soccer careers in recent memory.
Beckham's star power extended well beyond his career on the pitch, making him a global icon not only in the world of soccer, but in the fields of pop culture, fashion, and commerce. He won league championships in four countries and played in three World Cups, but also married a pop star, spawned a movie about his signature free kicks, and modeled underwear on countless billboards.
As Beckham prepares to walk off the field for good, here are four ways of looking at his legacy.
1. The world's biggest sports personality
Beckham's talent, combined with his good looks and endless self-marketing, turned him into one of the most recognizable faces in the world. In addition to marrying a Spice Girl, he struck huge commercial and endorsement deals, and served as a global ambassador for soccer, all of which led to him "transcending even the most globally popular of all sports," says Yahoo! Sports' Martin Rogers.
"A fantastic football player, a fantastic man, probably the biggest sports personality in the world," says Sven-Goran Eriksson, Beckham's coach from 2001-2006 with England. "If you talk about David Beckham, all over the world they know who that it is. I don't think there is any other football player more popular than him."
With Beckham hanging up his cleats, the game is losing its most famous, and versatile, face.
"It may be a long time, however, before we see another who can compete with the finest on the field, then step into a suit to meet political heavyweights, go party with the biggest celebrities on the planet, then finish it off with a waltz down the catwalk," says Rogers.
2. A golden right foot
At his prime, Beckham was one of the best players in the world, finishing as runner-up in 1999 for FIFA's Player of the Year. That year, he helped Manchester United win "The Treble," a coveted trio of trophies comprised of the F.A. Cup, the Premier League, and the UEFA Champion's League, European club soccer's top prize. And as any quick trip to YouTube will tell you, Beckham had a way with free kicks and crosses that was simply unmatched.
However, he was also criticized for his limited range. Manchester United legend George Best perhaps said it best, "He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle, and he does not score many goals. Apart from that, he's all right."
3. Brand Beckham
Though Beckham will no longer have a team, he'll still have his H&M clothing line, his Burger King commercials, and his stocked portfolio of other lucrative endorsement deals. "He remains a curiously undivisive figure," says the Daily Beast's Tom Sykes, despite the fact that he "has sold out more professionally, more extensively, and more successfully than any other soccer player in the history of the game."
Indeed, his latest move to Paris Saint-Germain, at age 38, was widely derided as a way for the club to sell a ton of jerseys.
Beckham has been responsible for some $1.5 billion in merchandise sales throughout his career, and Forbes estimates that he raked in $46 million in salary and endorsements last year alone, making him the eighth-highest paid athlete in the world.
"Where Beckham is concerned, it's highly doubtful he will ever be hanging up the hairdryer," says the the Telegraph's Chris Bascombe.
4. Cheerleader for U.S. soccer
Like Pele before him, Beckham played much of the twilight of his career in the U.S., helping to elevate soccer in a country famously resistant to the world's most popular sport. He played five and a half seasons for the Los Angeles Galaxy, winning back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.
"The impossible task of putting the game on a popularity par with the long-established American sports was ultimately beyond him, as it was always going to be, yet there is no doubt he served to heighten the game's overall reach and left an imprint on the pubic consciousness," says Rogers.
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