Words: Philip Cummins
Former England great Chris Waddle's appraisal of David Beckham's footballing career, in light of his recent retirement from the game, has sparked something of a storm in the twittersphere, with many taking Waddle to task for what they perceive as sour grapes on his part.
Waddle's claim on BBC radio that "You can go down a list of footballers since the Premier League and I don't think David Beckham would probably be in the first 1,000" has provoked outrage amongst those who think that Waddle has overlooked Beckham's six Premier League titles and Champions League with Man Utd. and his 115 caps with England. Waddle added:
"He has got a terrific image and used it very well. He never had a trick, wasn't particularly quick, but he was very good at set-pieces and deliveries, he made chances and made goals and was fantastic for clubs.
"He said the right things, he sold shirts, he put money in the tills wherever he went and conducted himself well.
"As a player, I would say he was a fantastic crosser of the ball, a great athlete.
"Now people will be talking about him and saying 'how great, how great'. I would say 'how good'.
"I would not say he was a great. He was very good at his job, he worked very hard as a professional footballer."
In my own humble opinion, I'd have to say that Waddle is bang on the money here. Yes, Beckham was a brilliant crosser of the ball and someone who gave free- taking a level of artistry; yes, he got some very important goals for England and Man Utd; yes, he inspired players around him.
There came a point in David Beckham's career, however, when he became more interested in his lifestyle and less interested in football. Though he didn't quit the game half as early as fellow United player George Best, the parallels between the two are interesting: Best's interest in football waned when he got heavily involved with booze and birds; Beckham's waned with each passing year that he was married to Victoria Beckham.
Quite simply, style and ego took over. Beckham, after he left United, seemed to have accepted his legacy as a football player when he left Old Trafford. As he went to Real Madrid and, later, to LA Galaxy, Beckham had been making retirement plans by creating "Brand Beckham": the fragrance line, the ad campaigns, the haircuts…god almighty, the haircuts. True, Beckham has been heavily involved in charity work and his contribution to securing London's successful bid for last year's Olympics was nothing short of important. One can't help but feel, however, that all of this feeds into the Beckham publicity machine. The point being, that there is a level of style, of ego, of self- aggrandizing about Beckham- and indeed other members of England's so- called “Golden Generation”- that wasn't there during Chris Waddle's time as an England player.
Beckham gave club football and international football moments of greatness, but was he consistent enough to be considered among the greats of recent years? The Zidanes, Keanes, Messi's, Ronadaldo's?