David Beckham broke the hearts of many Mancs, male and female, when he left us back in 2003 for Real Madrid. As he paraded around the field with the Premiership trophy in tow there was a sadness about him which let us know he was on his way, even though it had been officially denied.
Becks, a lifelong red, caught the attention of United when he was just 11 years old after winning Bobby Charlton’s Soccer Skills finals. A year later, Sir Alex Ferguson was personally taking him to meet the first team players in the dressing room when we played in London. It was a dream come true for the young red, and was just start of his career with United. He signed as a trainee in 1991 then a professional in 1993, but rose to fame in the 95-96 season as one of the “kids”, winning the Double.
Whilst always a favourite with the fans due to his dedication to the club, he was really adopted by the red following after his red card in the 1998 World Cup. England fans were burning effigies of him that summer, as he made his name as one of the several United players this country decides to scapegoat when the team fails. We loved him all the more for it, proudly hanging banners declaring “They may hate you, but Beckham we love you.” He was one of ours now more than ever, a proper red, and he returned our support with brilliant performances on the field.
Just as we’ve seen more recently with Ronaldo, Beckham went on to play out of his skin for United, enduring boos and vicious chants wherever we played. He played a massive role in us securing the Treble that season, week in week out, but most notably his goals against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi final and the crucial equaliser against Spurs on the final day of the season.
Four years after the England fans burned effigies of him, Beckham scored a stunning injury time freekick against Greece at Old Trafford which put England in to the 2002 World Cup finals. “Did you cheer, did you cheer, did you cheer when Beckham scored?” the Stretford End roared when West Ham, Chelsea and the like came to play us.
On the last home game of the season in his final year with us he scored the opening goal in our 4-1 win, and appeared to give a tearful goodbye to the fans. We’d loved him and supported him for so long, but I don’t believe then he fully understood what he was giving up on. Seeing Giggs and Neville lifting the trophy last season would surely have left him with mixed emotions. Happy that we had won the league, gutted that he wasn’t winning it with us.
I am firmly of the belief that it was correct for United to sell Beckham when they did. His eye had been turned by the money and the fame and he just wasn’t the same player anymore. He’d had problems negotiating his contract, demanding more money for image rights than United were prepared to offer, which will have left Fergie seething. In the end, his move away came down to money, with the break down in talks likely to have been the final straw for Ferguson. If the David Beckham of the present was in that team in 2003, I have no doubt he would have behaved differently, all the more aware now of what he threw away when he left United. He was one of the luckiest bastards in the World, a lifelong United fan who got to play for the team and be adored by the fans, and he gave up on it.
I have had mixed feelings on Beckham ever since then. I can’t help but love him because he gave us so much, but I was so disappointed in him leaving, in him telling us he was going to stay but then upping sticks anyway. Since his departure he can’t speak of the fans highly enough, always thanking us for our support, always declaring how much he owes the manager, calling him the best in the World, and time has really allowed us, and him, to realise how much United meant/means to David Beckham.
When he returned to Old Trafford for the United XI vs European XI match last season he said that his years with United were the best of his career, citing our support for him following the 1998 World Cup as the reason for him pulling through. He was over the moon to be back, beaming at being on our pitch again.
However, now he plays for LA Galaxy, giving his wife the life she’s craved for years, as his career grinds down to a halt. He is likely to gain his 100th England cap on February 6th, when red attention and focus will be elsewhere, although it may be his last. It was announced last month that Beckham would be training with a Premiership side to keep his fitness up. If I’m honest, I was pretty gutted to hear this side would be Arsenal. Of course there was no chance Fergie would have him up at Carrington, but did he have to go to Arsenal? The rivalry with the London club has been subdued for some time, until this season, but the height of the hatred came when Beckham was still at the club, with Arsenal winning the title twice in his years at United. In 98 they pipped us to the title by just one point and won it again in 2002. I know it’s only training, but why did he have to go there? I’d have been happy enough to see him train with his England pals at Chelsea, but Arsenal??
Today, however, the disappointment reached a new low, when the official Arsenal site published pictures of our former hero at their training ground. Fully kitted out in the Arsenal gear and sharing a laugh or two with our rivals. Only one word for it, gutted. I just hope that when Beckham is gushing over United and the fans at his next opportunity, I’m able to get these blasted images out of my head!
How do you feel about Beckham training with Arsenal?