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Beckham: A Review and Commentary From a Fan Perspective

Photo of the official trailer for the Netflix documentary titled Beckham. Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone.

The first time I heard of David Beckham was in 2008, at the verge of turning eight-years-old. I was getting into soccer or football, as it’s called globally, around this time due to one of my best friends. I was tired of playing American football, and I wanted to try a new sport, so I had my friend and his dad teach me how to play soccer. From that moment forward, I fell in love with the sport, paying close attention to teams and leagues around the world, while playing it at a competitive level for almost 12 years. 

I had heard of players like Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo Lima, and plenty of others, but David Beckham was the name who was famous in Los Angeles. He had just moved to L.A. from Real Madrid, arguably the most famous football club in the world the previous year. As a kid, I didn’t know who David Beckham was before he came to the Galaxy. Netflix’s four part series goes in depth on the man whose phrase “Bend it like Beckham” became a mantra and cultural phenomenon for kids around the world.

Through the use of never-before-seen-footage, the Netflix documentary titled “Beckham,” directed by Fisher Stevens, dives into the life and iconic career of the football star. From the perspective of Beckham himself, his parents, many of his former teammates and managers, and his wife Victoria,Beckham’ addresses the trials and tribulations of stardom and fame from an early age, as well as the pressures that come with garnering fame as an athlete.

Navigating Fame, Pressure, and the 1998 World Cup Incident

Photo of David Beckham signing his Manchester United contract alongside Alex Ferguson. Photo Courtesy of Netflix and Marca.

Episode one, titled “The Kick,” serves as a double entendre for two of Beckham’s most famous kicks in the mid to late 1990s. The episode details how David Beckham garnered fame at the young age of 21. On August 17, 1996, Beckham would score one of the greatest goals ever seen, in a moment that would change his life forever. Setting the documentary in motion, Director Stevens documents Beckham’s childhood as a Manchester United fan, which came from his parents Sandra and Ted. His parents recount how Beckham, as a child, was focused on achieving his dream of becoming a professional football player. He would practice in the family garden for hours on end, whether it was raining or sunny outside. His parents highlight his commitment by noting that he wouldn’t attend parties, go out with friends, or spend time with girls.

At the age of 15, Beckham was dominating the youth level, and one man, in particular, wanted the emerging star on his team. Alex Ferguson, the manager of Manchester United at the time, expressed his desire  to give young players a chance, and to “develop a football club, not a team.” From this point forward, some of Beckham’s former teammates, such as Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Eric Cantona, speak about Beckham’s rise to stardom at United and the relationship he had with Ferguson. On the other side of that fame came Beckham’s desire to build a brand off the field, including signing contracts with Adidas and Brylcreem. These off-field deals rubbed Ferguson the wrong way as he believed that one person was not above the team. However, as Gary Neville describes, Beckham had this switch where he could be focused on his personal and outside factors, while still excelling and focused on the field when it was time to represent Manchester United.

Beckham finally got the call to play for England before the 1998 World Cup. He would lead them to the 1998 World Cup, although he was benched for the World Cup opener by manager Glenn Hoddle due to Hoddle publicly criticizing Beckham’s “unprofessionalism” to the team. Beckham overcame the criticisms and demonstrated on the field that he was focused on leading this England team in the World Cup. They made it out of the group, but faced Argentina in the Round of 16, a match filled with animosity for soccer and culturally related reasons. The first reason was due to the Falklands War in 1982, which was a ten-week conflict where Argentina tried to reclaim two British territories by invading the territories due to Britain refusing to give the land back. The other reason was due to a quarterfinal matchup between the two nations in the 1986 World Cup, which produced one of the all-time great goals even though it’s one of the most controversial moments in soccer history. However, this specific matchup is memorable to soccer fans because of what happened in the game. Beckham would receive a red card after kicking Argentinian midfielder Diego Simeone. England would be eliminated in a penalty shootout by Argentina, and the nation blamed Beckham for the loss. As a result, Beckham would be subjected to death threats and abuse from an entire nation. 

Love Can Sometimes Be A Wonderful, Yet Complicated Feeling

Photo of David Beckham and Victoria Adams back in the late 1990s. Victoria was a member of the all-girl pop group, “Spice Girls.” Her and Beckham’s relationship would be given the nickname “Posh and Becks.” Photo courtesy of The New Yorker

At the age of 22, I haven’t found that special person that I want to share my life with, and that’s not a bad thing either because I know I’m patient, and I know that time will come. On the other hand, at the age of 22, David Beckham was a star on one of the best football clubs in the world while starting a relationship with Victoria Adams, or “Posh Spice,” one of the members of the girl pop group “The Spice Girls.” 

In episode one, Victoria and David recount their first encounter in 1997, when Victoria attended a Manchester United game with Melanie Chisolm, who was another Spice Girl. Victoria says “I wasn’t into football then, but I thought he was a handsome young man.” From there, the two narrate their relationship in the documentary, finishing each other’s sentences and using similar words to describe the early stages of their relationship. 

Victoria then details the moment that changed the couple’s lives forever, when she reveals to David that she was pregnant with their first child, Brooklyn, the day before England played Argentina in the 1998 World Cup Round of 16 match. Beckham tells his side of what was going through his mind when Victoria told him the news, saying, “I wanted to be with her, but I couldn’t because we were playing in a major tournament.” 

Together, the two navigate the fallout from the 1998 World Cup incident. At this point, the Beckhams were scrutinized by the British tabloids for just about anything they did. Despite their efforts to protect their son from the media, they were the “It” couple. The couple faced various media storms, but stood united, no pun intended. It’s important to note that during the 1998-1999 season, David faced heckling at every stadium he played, as the entire nation of England resented him due the previous summer events.   

During the 1999 European Cup quarterfinal against Inter Milan. Gary Neville details how David was distracted because Victoria told him, in Neville’s words, “If you missed this birth, if you are not back,” to which Neville advised David to turn off his phone as the game was too important. The turning point for David was the United faithful chanting “There’s only one David Beckham.” This was a shock to Beckham, but it fueled him to get United the win and welcome him and Victoria’s first child Brooklyn. 

The episode also explores Victoria and her unconventional start to motherhood. Victoria discusses being alone with Brooklyn while David was playing, as well as the abuse she endured from fans. Teammates observed that while David could handle anything as a player, reacting when fans targeted his family would be a natural response. So, David would go on to use the abuse as motivation to prove critics wrong. 

As David puts it, the abuse from the fans “spurred him on,” and he just started scoring goals, reclaiming his dominant form. He would lead Manchester United to the Premier League title, then the FA Cup title, and then United would defeat Bayern Munich in the European Cup final to become the first English team to win the treble, a feat where a team wins their country’s league title, their domestic tournament title, and the European Cup, now known as the Champions League. David and Victoria got married on July 4, 1999 in a lavish wedding, and David credits Victoria as the main reason he got through the challenging season. However, United Coach Alex Ferguson thought Victoria was a distraction to David, and the relationship between coach and player soured rapidly after a locker room incident.

Balancing Family Life While Being a Superstar On The Field

Photo of David Beckham and Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Photo courtesy of CBC

Episode three details Beckham’s life as a superstar player at Manchester United, the boot-room incident between himself and Ferguson, and the eventual transfer to Real Madrid. At this point, Beckham was the star at Manchester United and married to one of the Spice girls, so he and Victoria were attracting a lot of  attention. From late-night talk shows, to parties in London, the Beckhams were essentially royalty in England. However, Sir Alex Ferguson, dubbed “Sir” by Queen Elizabeth II after winning the treble in 1999, knew that United were the kings of English football, and he had a duty to maintain that status. Ferguson wanted an equal playing field for his players. Although Ferguson loved Beckham like he was his own child, he wanted Beckham to focus more on football than the off-field aspect of being a celebrity. 

After winning another Premier League title in 2000, Beckham received the call to captain the England National Team in the 2001 World Cup qualifiers ahead of the 2002 World Cup. In David’s words, he knew he had to rectify what he had done in 1998, and he showed his passion to be captain by working harder on the field than everyone else. Beckham would score the winning goal in England’s second World Cup group stage match against Argentina, cementing his status as a “national hero” for defeating the nation that sent them home in the previous World Cup. 

Episode three also garners an introduction to Carlos Queiroz, the assistant coach brought in by Ferguson. Queiroz sensed  that something was wrong with Beckham, pointing to an advertisement for Pepsi where Beckham has to put four to five kilograms of muscle in his upper body. Queiroz details how the performance of the player could be affected if the body’s coordination was off. Both he and Ferguson could see that Beckham was not himself, and Ferguson detailed how the culmination of everything that has happened over the last two to three years led to the infamous boot-room incident

Beckham, Ferguson, the kit man Albert Morgan, and former teammate Ole Gunnar Solskjær tell the story of what happened in the dressing room after their FA Cup tie against Arsenal, and the events that followed, causing a media storm for United. This would include Beckham being dropped from the starting 11 against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinal in April 2003, which infuriated him because every professional footballer wants to play against Real Madrid, let alone play for Real Madrid. 

British sports and politics journalist John Carlin narrates how Madrid players Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, and Zinedine Zidane were the best players in the world. He also provides insight into Real Madrid President Florentino Perez’s motto of “if we buy the best players, then we will win,” mentality, which is the reason why all four players mentioned were all on one team. Beckham would make a late appearance in the game, scoring two goals, but Madrid would knock United out of the tournament. He detailed how Zidane came up to him after the game and asked him the question, “You come to Madrid?” From there, Queiroz and Ferguson finish the story of what happened after the game and how Ferguson made the decision to transfer Beckham to Real Madrid, a decision that Beckham did not want. 

From Left to Right: Photo of David Beckham, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Zinedine Zidane, and Raul. This was when Real Madrid were called the “Galacticos” because of all the legendary talent they had on the field at once. Photo courtesy of The Sun

Victoria illustrates the challenges that wives and girlfriends of athletes face due to the potential sudden transfers. During the press conference featured in the documentary, the audience can see Victoria’s dissatisfaction, a point David emphasizes in his narration of the clip.  Victoria recounts an interview with Spanish Vogue, that falsely claimed “she hated Spain because it smells of garlic,” which is something she did not say. However, as Carlin puts it, the most grievous offense to the Spanish community is to question the quality of their food, making Victoria public enemy #1 in Madrid. Victoria explains that she faced criticism for not being in Spain right away because she had Brooklyn and Romeo, and she needed to find a school for Brooklyn before she moved to Spain.

David, however, dives into being starstruck during his first season at Madrid. Playing alongside the likes of Carlos, Ronaldo, Figo, and Zidane, posed a challenge, particularly as both Figo and Beckham both played right midfielder. 

Beckham states that he couldn’t take Figo’s spot, but Carlos and Michel Salgado detail how Beckham’s status off the field catapulted Real Madrid’s revenue during their preseason tour in Asia. Queiroz played a 5-3-2 formation to solve the Figo-Beckham conundrum, as Beckham would line up on the right of Zidane while Figo would line up on Zidane’s left. Everyone knew it would take some adjusting, but they figured it out, although it didn’t lead to winning the La Liga title.

The last 15 minutes is Beckham and his teammates at this time detailing his first season at Real Madrid. Queiroz, hired by Perez to manage the squad, becomes a problem considering he and Beckham did not get along during their time at Manchester United. The issue of Beckham and Figo playing the same position persists, and Beckham would be forced to play behind Figo, limiting his on-field contributions compared to when he was at United. Beckham describes the hardships of being in Spain without Victoria and his family, and how he loved that Victoria didn’t just want to be the wife of a footballer. Salgado recounts a team gathering, corroborated by Queiroz, where Beckham and Robert Carlos laughed for two hours despite the language barrier, a moment marking David settling into the team. 

The episode ends with Beckham settling into his role, and scoring the winning goal on his home debut. Everything seems to be going great, until the Spanish media gets a hold of an alleged affair.

The Extra-marital Affair and Life At Real Madrid 

Photo of the Daily Mirror tabloids after David Beckham’s alleged affair with personal assistant Rebecca Loos. Photo Courtesy of NBC News.

In April 2004, The News of the World printed detailed allegations alleging that David had an affair just after his transfer to Real Madrid. At the time, this was the biggest news story globally simply because the Beckhams were seen as a united front, so the British tabloids ran with the story. Victoria and David open up about the hardships their marriage went through during this time, not only as a couple, but as individuals. 

From that point, David and some of his Madrid teammates discuss the losing streak that followed the affair allegations. Madrid looked like a former shell of themselves, making mental lapses and giving up goals that they never gave up throughout the season. They eventually lost the league after being first for a majority of the season. Meanwhile, Victoria was getting ready to have the couple’s third child, Cruz. She shares how initially David said he wouldn’t be present for the birth due to a photoshoot with Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce, a decision that pissed Victoria off, especially when she saw the newspaper photo of Beckham, Lopez, and Beyonce with the caption, “What Would Posh Say?”

In May 2004, Real Madrid Club President Florentino Perez would fire Queiroz and hire Antonio Camacho as Real Madrid’s manager. Little did he know that Camacho would resign as the manager four months later. Madrid would go through coach, after coach, after coach, until Perez finally resigned as President in July 2005. Salgado reveals that Madrid needed a coach that was going to be tough on the team because the “Galacticos” atmosphere was not as advertised. Known for his strict and old -school approach, Fabio Capello steps in. Ronaldo and Beckham expressed their disagreement to the “firm-hand approach” Capello was instituting, so Capello benched both of them. This continued for multiple weeks, and at this point, Beckham’s future with Real Madrid was up in the air. 

It was a pipe dream. Bringing a talent like David Beckham to play soccer in America is something that would probably never happen in a million years. Tim Leiweke, the CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) at the time, expressed how he wanted to bring Beckham to the LA Galaxy from the moment he saw Beckham sitting on the bench at Real Madrid. AEG owned the LA Galaxy, a Major League Soccer team who had always been a good team, but no superstar player from Europe was going to play in Major League Soccer. Beckham, however,   was more focused on getting back into the Real Madrid starting lineup. He recalls being called into Capello’s Office and being informed that he would never play for Real Madrid again after the manager learned David was speaking to other clubs. That confirmation of never playing for Real Madrid again eventually led Beckham to more serious talks with LA Galaxy and eventually signing with the club in January 2007, while still finishing his contract in Madrid.  

This is where the episode is funny in a sense, because all of his former teammates and Sir Alex Ferguson are shocked that he would leave Europe to play in America, even though they wish him well. Victoria, on the other hand, expresses relief at the prospect of moving from LA to Spain as Spain hasn’t been too kind to them. Victoria shares how easier it was to live in Los Angeles, and to fulfill her duties as a mother to her three children while David was still playing.

Photo of David Beckham and Real Madrid celebrating after winning the La Liga title in 2007. Beckham would be forced to come off after suffering an injury, but he played a major role in helping Madrid win the title. Photo Courtesy of Bleacher Report

While waiting for his contract to end, David would essentially be exiled from the Real Madrid team, as Capello made him train by himself. Beckham details how it felt to watch games from the suites at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, and Victoria detailed how determined Beckham was to get back on the squad, even when he could’ve just let go. David would still show up to training on time, and Roberto Carlos shared  how the team pleaded with Capello to let David train with the team. From this point forward, Capello told the President that David will play, and if they lose, then he could fire him, which was an attempt to save his job because he would essentially look like a genius if this went well. 

With 17 games left in the season, Real Madrid finished with 11 wins, five draws, and one loss to win the La Liga title, including winning seven of their last eight games. Real Madrid wants to keep Beckham and untie the contract he signed with the Galaxy, and while he gave it some thought, Leiweke reminds the audience that David remembered that Madrid benched him, and Beckham officially was a member of the LA Galaxy. 

The City of Angels, Paris Saint-Germain, Retirement, and Inter Miami

Photo of David Beckham at his jersey unveiling and press conference for the LA Galaxy. On the left is Tim Leiweke, the man who took the biggest risk in MLS history, and turned it into the greatest move the league ever made. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report. 

Beckham’s arrival to the LA Galaxy not only made headway in America, but it was a test to see if Major League Soccer can grow into potentially being a great league years down the line. The coverage surrounding the couple when they descended into America was insane as paparazzi followed them from the airport to their house. The Beckhams were basically royalty in Los Angeles as every A-list celebrity showed up to a welcome party hosted by Tom Cruise and Will Smith. As business partner and friend David Gardner put it, “Everywhere you look, there’s a famous person.” 

Then came August 9, 2007, when David Beckham would sub into the game in the 72nd minute to make his LA Galaxy debut against D.C. United, with 45,000 fans watching inside RFK Stadium. As journalist Franklin Foer put it, he was risking everything attempting to become the “Messiah of American Soccer,”  adding that if it didn’t work out in the United States, then he would become the laughingstock of soccer. 

Former Galaxy defender Kyle Martino and Franklin Foer describe how MLS created the “David Beckham rule,” which allowed teams to pay one player above the salary cap. The rule has changed now compared to what it was then, but this was instrumental in getting to where the league is now. 

Former Galaxy teammate Landon Donvan, along with Beckham and Martino, detailed the 12-game losing streak the Galaxy went on, simply saying, “We were not that good.” On one side of the coin, David was unhappy, but on the other side of the coin, Victoria was on cloud nine living in LA. Los Angeles brought the entire family together, as they were able to do things without having cameras and the paparazzi in their face. 

Fabio Capello would be named the England manager after the season ended, and he told Beckham that if he wanted to play for England in the 2010 World Cup, then he would have to play for a European club. He suggested A.C. Milan in Italy, and Beckham didn’t ponder the decision at all, a decision that frustrated Victoria as she would be left with the kids while he was back in Europe playing soccer. David realizes this was a selfish decision, but knew it was his only chance to play in the World Cup. This is what he had to do, so the Galaxy loaned him to Milan for the rest of the club season. He played well in Milan, so they wanted to buy him permanently, which was the worst case scenario for the LA Galaxy. Donovan details how frustrated he was with Beckham leaving the club, saying “Even though it’s a s—ty little MLS team that he doesn’t care about, it meant a lot to me.” Donovan and Beckham would call each other out publicly, with Donovan first saying that Beckham had abandoned the team, to which Beckham responded by saying that Donovan was unprofessional. 

Fast forward to July 19, 2009, when the Galaxy would face A.C. Milan in a friendly match that I actually had the pleasure of going to as an eight year old. “I have never seen American fans boo a home-team player as badly as that,” Director Fisher Steven states. As a person who remembers that match since it was one of the first ever soccer games I went to, Fisher is definitely not wrong. Galaxy fans booed him to shreds, to which Beckham would even agree with the booing to a certain extent. It got so bad that Beckham ran to the corner flag and confronted fans before players from both teams went into the locker room. This was the lowest point for the Galaxy, and they needed to change the narrative fast. 

Donovan and Beckham would tell the story of their coach calling them before practice to hash things out, and both apologized for their actions. Donovan brings up the fact that their coach told David while they were together that this team was Donovan’s Manchester United. Donovan was from Ontario, California, about a 50 minute drive from the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, so Donovan had the opportunity to play for his hometown club, similar to how David played for his favorite team in Manchester United. 

Photo of some signs from the LA Riot Squad, one of the supporter groups for the Galaxy during the A.C. Milan game. This was a crazy moment not only for Beckham, but for the team and the fanbase as a whole. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times

It was at this moment where Beckham remembered the responsibility he owed not only to MLS, but to his family to make this thing work. Everything clicked from that point on, as Leiweke put it, and the Galaxy would win the 2011 MLS Cup, adding another trophy to the Beckham resume. Beckham would add another MLS Cup a year later, and the family decided that it was time to go back home to England because they haven’t seen their families since they left Spain. However, when they get back to England, David pulls the “David Beckham special” as Victoria calls it, and tells her that he is going to Paris to play for Paris Saint-Germain. It was around this time where his body was starting to break down on him, and he played his final game in May 2013 after announcing his retirement days before the game. 

As we see Beckham cooking for the family, he talks about being with his family, and how proud he is of his kids for handling everything he went through while he was playing. While Victoria and David talk about how therapy has helped them overcome all of the trials and tribulations in their relationship, the camera switches between them talking and them dancing to “Islands in the Stream” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. The switch between narration and them dancing and singing showed what true love looks like, overcoming all of the obstacles they faced together as a couple. 

Before the documentary ends, “Happy Together” by The Turtles plays in the background, as David announces that he is starting the Inter Miami Club Football franchise. He shows videos of Neymar and Lionel Messi congratulating him on the new journey, before the video pans to Messi’s unveiling for Miami earlier this year, and his game winning goal in his debut for Miami. The documentary ends with David and Romeo talking trash to each other, as both take turns shooting free kicks.

George Hamilton

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