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OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Beckham on the turf

Perhaps he did not provide a boost to Real Madrid’s play but he honored the club and proved a wise investment

David Beckham is arguably the most famous sportsman of all time. Yet the footballer who last week announced his retirement, after 20 years as a professional, is not on the list of the 50 best players of his time. He was not even the best English player of the last two decades, or even the best of Manchester United, or Real Madrid.

However, his hiring in 2003 is the best business deal Florentino Pérez ever made as president of the club. José Ángel Sánchez, then Real’s marketing director, could hardly believe it when he went to negotiate Beckham’s price with the Manchester United business manager, who told him he would sell the star for 30 million euros. Sánchez and Pérez were prepared to pay twice that. They might have paid three times, and still come out winning.

The Englishman, naively enough, appraised Beckham’s monetary value only in function of his virtues on the field, not understanding (what Pérez and Sánchez understood to perfection) that his condition as a celebrity promised huge profits to any club whose colors he wore.

Real Madrid recouped the fee in the blink of an eye, on shirt sales alone. But, more importantly still, the glamor, the elegance and the instant global recognition that Beckham brought, immediately placed Madrid in an advantageous situation when it came to negotiating contracts with Adidas, Audi and other multinationals that were scrambling to associate their names with King David and the Dream Team.

This does not mean that Beckham did not perform on the field. In Madrid, as with all his clubs, he was a model professional, with the particular merit of not letting his colossal fame go to his head when it came to training and competing. As a player he was worth every euro of the 30 million, the same amount Madrid would later pay for Pepe and Fabio Coentrão.

He became a subject of conversation not only in the soccer world but far beyond it

Why did he get to be so famous? Why was he a subject of conversation not only in the soccer world but far beyond it? We can identify at least four factors.

First, he was — is — very good-looking. He has been to masculine beauty what Angelina Jolie and the Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen are to the feminine canon. With the difference that soccer attracts a far wider public than cinema and fashion.

Second, he married Victoria “posh” Adams of the Spice Girls. She raised his celebrity voltage. Except for a brief episode in Madrid, when he was unable to resist the charms of a certain Rebecca Loos, they have been an exemplary couple, or at least have come through as such. Even their reconciliation was convincing.

Which brings us to the third factor: the publicity machine that has sold the image of Beckham, adroitly playing up his virtues and playing down his defects, including the fact that his mastery of grammar has always been rather uncertain.

The fourth factor is that Beckham is a nice guy. Famous, good-natured and humble at the same time, he has always been respectful of the people around him. When training with Real Madrid, you noticed how attentive he was to the substitute goalkeeper, and other non-galactic players on the team. When the Madrid team arrived back at Barajas at three in the morning after a match abroad, Beckham was the one who stayed longest signing autographs and posing for photos with the hard core of fans who showed up at the airport. With the Spanish press, he was always a gentleman.

For this, and for much more, Beckham deserves applause. Perhaps he didn’t do much to improve Madrid’s play, but he did give the club’s name a big boost, aggrandized its legend, and honored soccer in general. The same cannot be said of all the figures that have walked the turf of the Santiago Bernabéu in recent years.

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