Then, at 26, he was at his best, scoring more goals for United than any other season despite the injury that cut him short. His strained relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson stemmed mainly from his rising profile as England captain. When Beckham broke a metatarsus in a Champions League match against Deportivo La Coruna on April 10, 2002, the Scotsman declined to discuss the implications for his player and this summer’s World Cup at the post-match press conference. It has become excruciating. Time and time again Ferguson had to be brought back to the subject, finally acknowledging through gritted teeth what a blow it was for a player at the top of his game.
Did Ferguson find Beckham’s fame a challenge to his control and a major irritation? Undoubtedly. Did that stop Ferguson from devoting an entire chapter to the player in his second volume of hit memoirs of 2013? No, this is not the case.
A month after the game against Greece, Beckham narrowly finished second in the Fifa World Player of the Year award. With him in camp, United might have won this season’s Champions League semi-final against Bayer Leverkusen, losing weakly on away goals. Could they have beaten Real Madrid at Hampden Park? A triumph that would have been recorded so high on Ferguson’s Richter emotional scale that he might even have come to terms with his prodigy. Instead, Beckham went to the 2002 World Cup a shadow of the player he had been nine months earlier.
Bad decisions followed in the years that followed: starting with choosing Real Madrid over Barcelona who first struck a deal with Manchester United when they left in 2003. Then, at just 32 years old in 2007, a ridiculously premature move to the United States which then saw him go back and forth on European loans to extend his international career.
So much uproar over the years – but what made Beckham’s cause so appealing was the willingness to put it all on the line. He came back to play for England, and for that he was loaned to AC Milan, then this cameo at Paris Saint-Germain. It was the chaos that football inflicts on even its biggest stars – wins, losses, lows, ups, indignities – that built the brand. It was always a mess with Beckham and people seemed to like it. Nowadays there is much less risk.