DAVID BECKHAM: THE LAST SUPERSTAR AND THE FIRST BRAND
I am old enough to remember the spectacle of David Beckham.
I mean when he wasn’t a global brand but an actual football player. He was a real superstar that was notorious on and off the pitch. Some England games were more about him and his performance, that the other players would seep slowly into the background. It was simply all about him.
Often this could be for the worse. The silly sending off in the 1998 World Cup, against Argentina of all nations, made him the scapegoat for England’s exit. To be fair, it was an incredibly stupid and immature thing to do, but the reaction from the nation, myself as a young kid included, was that of extreme ire. This reaction hasn’t been replicated since. Yes, there has been a general outpour of anger and despair at England’s performances, but never to the level of 1998 with people burning effigies of Beckham instead of Guy Fawkes.
With all this frenzy and adulation based on one player, he always had the opportunity to change it around, and that he did. My memory is short and I have very few strong memories but I vividly remember Beckham’s free-kick against Greece, late in the game, to take England to the 2002 World Cup. My dad jumped out of his seat so fantastically he smashed our very dated glass light shade. He, in typical fashion, was a superstar that led England single-handedly to success that time.
Perhaps due to an ever-increasing global world, or the fact that the true leaders of football, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have disappeared overseas. England has not had the same fascination on one single player since. That is not to say we don’t have world class players, Harry Kane won the Golden Boot in 2018, but the fame is shared more across the team. Beckham was the last of the superstars for England and he leant into it and made himself a pop icon at the same time.
The back pages could be filled with as many mentions of his hair as his famous right foot that even got a mention from Hugh Grant in Love Actually.
Now all players try and replicate that success, every player is now a ‘brand’ and tries to sell their story, not only as a footballer but as a person. Social media adds to this, with a lot of footballers being mana managed to the point of crazy, and we all have Beckham to blame.
This approach only really works out for those who are generally world class. You have to make it on the pitch to make it count. No one wants to follow a loser. Even Adebayo Akinfenwa, and his slightly comical media approach was helped by being part of play-off winning squads, and being oddly effective in league football.
It becomes quite cringeworthy when you see players trying to establish themselves as brands when they are quite simply just footballers. That isn’t to say that they aren’t decent, but they aren’t going to influence a grown man to get a faux-hawk like Beckham of old.
So, when I see players like Marcus Maddison, playing averagely for my beloved Charlton, wearing one orange boot and one black (making it look from a distance like he has lost a shoe), I can’t help but compare him to Beckham. And only one will ever inspire a nation, for good or bad.