David Beckham, English soccer's golden boy, heads for the exit

The A-list celebrity and star midfielder announced his retirement from soccer today, after a career playing for the top clubs in nations across Europe.

Jae C. Hong/AP/File
David Beckham fixes his tie during a L.A. Galaxy news conference in Los Angeles in 2012. Beckham says he is retiring from soccer at the end of this season.

David Beckham, one of soccer's biggest stars both on and off the pitch, is calling it a day.

Former England soccer captain Beckham today announced he is to retire at the end of the regular season. He said he will play two more games for his current club Paris Saint-Germain in France before hanging up his professional boots to concentrate on his various commercial and ambassadorial roles.

In a statement, the 38-year-old Beckham paid tribute to family and friends while saying his proudest achievement was captaining his country. He added: “If you had told me as a young boy I would have played for and won trophies with my boyhood club Manchester United, proudly captained and played for my country over one hundred times and lined up for some of the biggest clubs in the world, I would have told you it was a fantasy. I’m fortunate to have realized those dreams.”

The decision comes just a week after another giant of the English game, his former boss at Manchester United Sir Alex Ferguson, announced he was retiring as manager at the end of the season to become a club director.

Beckham, who is married to Spice Girls pop star Victoria or "Posh Spice," has become a cultural phenomenon with a carefully created PR image attracting multimillion-dollar celebrity endorsements that have included Adidas, Gillette, Armani, and Pepsi.

Born in east London, the midfielder was picked up by Manchester United as a 16-year-old and went on to play in a golden generation of former ManU youth team players. Beckham ultimately earned six English league titles and a European Cup with United, 115 appearances with England's national team, and assorted foreign honors including last year's Major League Soccer Championship with the Los Angeles Galaxy and this year’s French title with Paris Saint-Germain.

Beckham's post-United career also included stints with European giants Real Madrid and AC Milan.

Some soccer commentators have claimed Beckham has more style than substance, with his good looks and affability outweighing his ability. But Daily Express football correspondent Mick Dennis said that was unfair. “Was he a great like Messi, Maradona, Pele, or Cruyff? No, he wasn’t. But I would put him in the top three or four Englishmen behind people like Bobby Charlton."

“He has an aura about him on the pitch and the drive to push a team," Mr. Dennis says. "When England beat Germany 5-1 in Munich in 2001, it was Beckham through the force of his personality and character which drove the team to that victory.”

“He was very, very good at specific things like hitting a dead ball, long-range passes, but I’d say it was his drive and determination which made him stand out,” he adds.

Beckham has an estimated fortune of £165 million ($252 million) garnered from soccer contracts and commercial endorsements. And he was widely credited with helping London’s winning bid for last year’s summer Olympics.

But as his soccer career waned, it was his celebrity status that earned the tabloids’ attentions, with he and Victoria – with whom he has four children – being the ultimate A-list guests.

Rebecca Hopkins, managing director at London sports PR agency ENS, says that will not end soon. “He’s been well advised, and what is more important, he listens to his advisers. He’s amenable and open to suggestions which other male sportsmen might not have done like perfume and underwear."

“He’s populist, handsome, and approachable which makes him very marketable," she adds, noting that he was a hit even in the US, where professional soccer still trails in popularity to more established sports like baseball and basketball. "When he signed for L.A. Galaxy, they’d sold 250,000 shirts before he’d even got there, which shows he had global appeal."

“He’s been very astute. He and Victoria have worked very hard at getting into emerging markets and him becoming a football ambassador in China means he’ll still be involved in football.”

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