(Note: Originally published in the Bossier Press-Tribune, May 17, 2013)
It's not often that a true icon retires, let alone, two within a week of each other.
But that's what happened in the world's game over the last few days when Manchester United FC Manager Sir Alex Ferguson announced he was leaving the bench after 27 years and global icon David Beckham followed suit Thursday.
Interestingly enough, these are a player and manager who will forever be linked. Beckham, a fanatical Manchester United fan as a child, was signed by Ferguson at the age of 14, setting in motion what would eventually become “Brand Beckham” (but more on that later). The midfielder with movie star looks had great passing skills, especially on set pieces — corner kicks, free kicks, etc. — but was seen as more of a productive squad member until he gained the spotlight he would never give up for his audacious goal scored from literally the middle of the field during an English Premier League match in 1996.
He made 265 appearances for United, scoring 62 goals and winning the EPL six times, Football Association Cup twice, and the coveted Union of European Football Associations Champions League.
He also won big when it came to sponsorships, capitalizing on his fame and looks to help pioneer the era of sports stars as salespersons. He could/can be seen modeling underwear, drinking soda, wearing Adidas, and using a million other products. Just his picture on a billboard in China meant that sales would see an uptick.
And Beckham was wise to use all this to his advantage across the course of his two decades of playing time, moving to high profile clubs in various countries across the world in what detractors would say were only an attempt to promote Brand Beckham — the press' nickname for his ever-present PR and lucrative sponsorship deals.
At the same time, it's important to note that Beckham has won championships in four different major leagues, including two in America's Major League Soccer with the LA Galaxy.
His high profile move across the pond in 2007 saw Brand Beckham not only bringing attention to himself, but an identity-seeking league. The brainchild of Beckham's management company and the MLS administrators paid huge dividends for the league as attendance increased, jersey sales rose, and the league got time on major sports networks.
But it wasn't always champagne and roses in this Beckham-MLS love affair, as he only played sparingly his first year and even spent part of 2008 and 2009 playing for Italian giants A.C. Milan.
Despite these decisions creating animosity between himself and fans, he settled down during the last two seasons of his contract, bringing back-to-back titles for the Galaxy.
He left our shores for the glamorous French club Paris St. Germain in January of this year and promptly turned around to win a title with them this past weekend.
Say what you will about Beckham's post-United playing career being nothing but a carefully decided publicity stunt, but all the guy did was win silverware.
And it's easy to argue this desire to win was instilled and groomed under Ferguson's tutelage.
The 71-year-old Scotsman is notorious for his unquenchable thirst to win, inspiring lackluster teams to the top, just like he did as recently as this season.
In all, Ferguson won 13 EPL titles, two Champions League titles, and pretty much every other trophy there is. Ferguson had the uncanny ability to adapt to the league, his playing squad, and the volatility of the era of sports agents and money to win big. Beyond his utter contempt for losing, he had complete control of his team, being disciplinarian extraordinaire and using both encouragement and fear to inspire his team.
To put it into perspective, imagine if Phil Jackson never left the Chicago Bulls, still winning his 11 NBA titles, plus a few extra to boot. And he did it by eventually trading away Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and any other superstar who came to play for him. But get rid of the easy going, Zen nature and replace it with a slightly less grumpy Nick Saban and now you're getting an idea of who Ferguson was as a coach.
Maybe that's why it was no surprise he and his star pupil eventually fell out in a very ugly and very public way.
Ferguson's contempt for Beckham's inflating ego and distracting star power was no secret and it all came to a head in 2003 when Ferguson, angry over a FA Cup loss to rivals Arsenal, kicked a stray cleat in the locker room and it caught Beckham above the eye. Beckham made no secret of the injury and while never expressing anger or disappointment, he never denied it either, eventually discussing the incident in his autobiography.
He shortly moved to Real Madrid in Spain that following summer, beginning his world tour.
Of course, distance puts things in perspective and the pair have seemed to make up in the years following their animosity, with Beckham saying, “Without him, I would never have achieved what I have done,” after news of Ferguson's retirement.
When Ferguson leaves the bench for the last time this Sunday and Beckham walks off the pitch for good a week later, they will always have the bond between them — one of winning, everything, at all costs.