David Beckham will retire from soccer at the end of the season, closing a 21-year career in which he won titles in four countries and became one of the world’s most-recognized people.
Beckham, 38, turned down an offer to remain at Paris Saint-Germain, which he joined on a five-month contract in February. His retirement announcement yesterday came four days after PSG captured its first French league title in 19 years.
“I always secretly said to myself I want to go out at the top,” Beckham said in an interview on Sky Sports with his former Manchester United and England teammate Gary Neville. “If you’d said to me eight months ago you’ll be playing in the French league, winning the league, and finishing like this I would have probably said ‘absolutely no chance.’ I was given the opportunity and I just feel now is the time. I believe it’s the right time but I’ll always believe I could do more.”
Beckham’s decision brings to an end a career in which he set the English national team record of 115 appearances by a non-goalkeeper. The midfielder made his professional debut with Manchester United in 1992 and went on to play for Real Madrid, the Los Angeles Galaxy, AC Milan and PSG, which has two games remaining in its season, against Brest tomorrow and at Lorient on May 26.
“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,” Beckham said in a statement.
Beckham is married to the former Spice Girls singer Victoria Beckham, who is also known as Posh Spice, and has achieved worldwide popularity both on and off the field. He was No. 8 on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s highest-paid athletes in 2012 with earnings of $46 million, which include sponsorships with companies including Adidas AG, PepsiCo Inc. and Giorgio Armani SpA.
Alex Ferguson, Beckham’s coach at Manchester United, also retired this month after 26 years with the English club.
Beckham was a member of United’s F.A. Youth Cup-winning team of 1992 that included Neville, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt. He was given his first-team debut by Ferguson in an F.A. Cup match in September of that year.
He would then make his Premier League debut three years later and went on to win six league titles, two F.A. Cups and the Champions League in 1999.
Neville said Beckham had helped transform his sport while also transcending it.
“When you think back on the way football has changed over the last 22 years, he has probably been the most influential player in that time out of England in terms of transforming football,” Neville told Sky Sports. “He has transported England around the world and that’s something he was aware of and wanted to do. Every clothing garment he wore, every hairstyle was followed. Not just in football.”
Beckham made his first England appearance in 1996 and went to the World Cup two years later. In the second round against Argentina, he was red-carded for kicking out at Diego Simeone and England eventually lost in a penalty shootout.
Fans and media in the U.K. blamed Beckham for the loss and he became the target of criticism, including the Daily Mirror printing a dartboard with his picture in the bulls eye.
Beckham was made England captain in 2000 and held the role through the 2006 World Cup, after which he stepped down. His last-minute goal from one of his specialty bending free kicks against Greece in 2001 qualified England for the following year’s World Cup.
“To this day, one of my proudest achievements is captaining my country,” Beckham said yesterday. “I knew every time I wore the Three Lions shirt, I was not only following in a long line of great players, I was also representing every fan that cared passionately about their country.”
He was dropped from the England squad by manager Steve McLaren in 2006, then recalled a year later. He missed the 2010 World Cup because of a ruptured Achilles tendon, with his last national team appearance coming the previous year.
Beckham joined Real Madrid in 2003, becoming one of the Spanish club’s so-called Galacticos along with players including Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Ronaldo. After winning the Spanish title in his final game in 2007, he moved to Major League Soccer.
Beckham signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy later that year, saying he wanted to help increase the sport’s popularity in the U.S. He became the highest-profile player to join a U.S. club since Pele went to the New York Cosmos of the old North American Soccer League in 1975. Pele posted on Twitter today that soccer “has lost a very good player” and wished Beckham well for his “life after football.”
Beckham’s five years in Los Angeles included two loan spells at AC Milan and MLS titles in his final two seasons. His presence coincided with a period of unprecedented growth for MLS, which added seven clubs in the past seven years. Fifteen of the 19 league’s teams now play in soccer-specific stadiums, up from five before 2007.
He left the Galaxy after his contract expired in November, saying he achieved everything he wanted with the club. He signed with PSG earlier this year and would make 11 appearances in the club’s championship run.
Off the field, Beckham took ambassador roles in England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup and with the 2012 London Olympics. Earlier this year he was named a sports ambassador for Sky Television and has also helped promote soccer in China.
“He has been such a great ambassador for the game at home and abroad and was a tremendous performer for his clubs and England,” David Bernstein, chairman of England’s Football Association, said on the governing body’s website. “David always played with the greatest passion and became an iconic figure in our national game.”