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David Beckham - A good player and a legendary brand

2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy

“The spotlight will always be on me, but it’s something I’m learning to live with as the years go by.” – Beckham

An enigma, a phenomenon, a name that all know and football fans love, David Beckham has since a decade and a half dominated in some way or other the world of football. But has he really been a great player? I mean, Zidane is great, Scholes is great, Messi is great. Was ever Beckham in the same league as them? I don’t think so. At his peak, he was one of the best in the world, a runner up to World Player of the Year award in 1999. But sustainability of that form was relatively short. What then makes the former United, Madrid and Galaxy player, the name he is? Or rather the brand he is?

“Beckham cannot kick with his left foot, can’t head the ball, can’t tackle and he doesn’t score enough goals. Otherwise he’s all right.” - George Best.

He was declared again the richest footballer by Forbes, for having a net value of 175 million dollars, 60 million more than Messi. How? He has announced that he will donate all his PSG earnings to charity, neither is he at his peak, in fact he has not been at his best since past 10 years. Of course, he is still the best player I have seen over a dead ball, a set piece specialist par excellence, and can still get in ‘Hollywood’ balls. But his game on an aggregate has fallen. So how does he manage it? The answer lies in the fact that Beckham is now more of a brand and less of a player.

Let us look at his career subjectively. After his half-line goal against Wimbledon, Beckham became a household name. The Premier League’s drive to modernize itself had started. Beckham ticked all the necessary boxes. And so he was made the poster boy for the Premier League. At a time when footballers hardly appeared in advertisements, Beckham’s face was plastered on Brylcreem packets across the world. United gained a lot from his brand value, indeed it is basically Beckham that got United the initial following here in Asian climes. Winning trophies every year helped, not only the men liked him, children copied him and women adored him. And therefore, he was first choice for a range of products, for a variety of target audience. While his marriage helped him gain more popularity in the States, his football allegedly suffered because of it. Victoria allegedly was the catalyst for the eventual bust up between Sir Alex and Beckham.

“He was never a problem until he got married. He used to go into work with the academy coaches at night time, he was a fantastic young lad. Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing – from that moment, his life was never going to be the same. He is such a big celebrity, football is only a small part.” – Alex Ferguson speaking about Beckham’s marriage in 2007.

I tend to agree with the Scot here; while before marriage he was only a good value advertisement, after marriage everyone wanted a piece of him. It is believed by many still that the only reason Madrid bought him was to bring in revenue. And that they did well enough. Shirt sales increased by 20% during his time there. The tours to the far east became money-spinning bonanzas. Of course, there were other stars. But then it is difficult to compete with the English name who is only second in popularity to Coca-Cola in Japan.

Then in 2007-08 season, MLS giants LA Galaxy bought him, and it was here that the true power of the Beckham name showed. Everywhere he played attendances rose. Advertising and on-air revenues increased for LA Galaxy. He shot American football into limelight and is the reason that other waning stars such as Henry and Keane decided to ply their trade across the Atlantic.

I don’t for a moment think this is undeserved, in fact he deserves all of it. Beckham has great attributes, he has a face that the camera loves, he changes hairstyles more often than he would change his socks, and he married a Spice Girl. In addition, Beckham has enjoyed an untarnished and uncontroversial off-field career, has the public image of a good father, a good husband and a great player.

Consequently, brands like Adidas, Pepsi, Brylcreem, Police Sunglasses, Gillette, Motorola, Vodafone, Armani, Sharpe, Burger King have employed his services for marketing purposes. And now even the People’s Republic of China have been added to the list. The Chinese want the game to get better and Beckham could be crucial as children, the main focal point of any such plan would idolize him. And China is hoping that the trick that worked in USA would work with them too.

“Whereas Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan are respected, Beckham is loved, adored, worshipped in some parts of the world. He has an almost godlike status.” - Ellie Cashmore

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