The men who made David Beckham
For all his incredible talent and hard work, David Beckham's success owes much to the input of seven key men in his life…
Like most doting dads, Ted Beckham was desperate to see his young son succeed in football. From the endless hours of practice in the park, to taking David to watch and later take part in his own games of football, Ted was there for him from day one. "David had a very special talent for playing the game," he explained in David Beckham, My Son. "I knew he had been given an extraordinary gift and it was my job to try and bring it out. It wasn't long before that job took over my life.”
Ted's influence on the park was largely responsible for creating the player we saw every week. He would oversee David's free-kick practice until late at night, rewarding him with a pat on the back and an extra 50p every time he hit an intended target. He would also kick the ball as high as he could for David to trap it to improve his control; the pass-and-move style we later saw was a Beckham-senior trademark.
"My skills come from working with dad in the local park," David said in his autobiography, My Side. "We would work on passing, crossing and shooting from as soon as I got home from school until 11 o'clock at night. I knew that I would have to put that work in to make it into the Manchester United first team."
Ted would later follow David to every game and, ultimately, gifted his son with the support that would not only help him through the pitfalls of professional football, but also life. "Even now," he says, "I think I still judge myself by the standards I learnt from mum and dad."
"A massive bloke with a booming voice and a fantastic presence about him," was the way Beckham described the man who knocked on his door asking about his availability after he had spotted him playing in the local park. Stuart set up Beckham's first team, Ridgeway Rovers. Respected by his young charges and their parents alike, Underwood created a professional team from which several players would go on to make it professionally. “He was a father figure," Beckham enthused. “He had a lot to do with me making a future for myself in the game.” And not just on the pitch. Stuart would instil a sense of the discipline essential at a top club: wearing a tie to big games, not missing training and remaining humble in victory... all of these traits were picked up at an early age and made Beckham a perfect mould for the United way of life.
When talking about the people who really shaped his career, Beckham mentions his United youth-team coach Eric Harrison in the same breath as his father and Sir Alex Ferguson. Harrison brought the best out of 'Fergie's Fledglings' and encouraged them to toughen up physically and mentally. He was also the man who coined the phrase 'Hollywood pass' of Beckham's long ball - he told David not to overuse it and to become more of a team player. He would often tell Beckham to watch the man playing in his position in case he took his place. Sure enough, when Andrei Kanchelskis left in 1995, the boy Beckham was in. "His talent had to be seen to be believed," said Eric that year. "There's no doubt he'll go on to become one of the most dominant players in football." Beckham returned the compliment. "Even now," he said in his late 20s, "I look to him for guidance and advice."
Sir Alex Ferguson
“Sir Alex Ferguson has been the making of me,” Beckham said in 2002. “He brought me up and has made my career what it is.” The Scot welcomed Beckham to the club with open arms in 1991 and immediately made him feel part of the Red family. "He knew my name, my mum and dad, and my sisters; he knew everything about me," Becks said. The work ethic instilled in Beckham by his father and early coaches was reinforced by Sir Alex on the United training ground. The Leytonstone-born midfielder's willingness to practice his craft for hours on end went down well with his new mentor, and went some way to helping him become the greatest crosser on the planet. “David Beckham practices with a relentless application that the vast majority of less gifted players wouldn't contemplate," Sir Alex said in his autobiography, Managing My Life. Sir Alex repaid Beckham's effort by handing him the No.7 shirt (and later, on occasion, the captaincy) - but it was the Gaffer's footballing expertise that really struck a chord with our mercurial midfielder of old.
"The boss understands football like few other people," he said. "Whatever situation the team's in, either during a season or during a game, the players have the feeling he knows exactly what to do." The two would later have their disagreements, but the mutual respect each had for the other is unquestionable. "When the chips are down on the football field, you can bet your life that David Beckham won't be found wanting," enthused Sir Alex. Becks is similarly effusive in his praise of Sir Alex. "He's a very demanding man but, in all my time as a United player, the gaffer was the one person who always seemed to have even more faith in us than we had in ourselves. He made players feel special."
"David learned 99 percent of what he knows from United, but I like to believe that the missing one per cent was gained at Preston," says Gary Peters, the Preston North End manager in 1995. Despite scoring in a 4-0 win against Galatasaray in the Champions League, there had been a feeling in the club that Beckham wasn't quite ready. "People said he was a bit soft going into tackles and headers," Gary Neville told United. No surprise then, that Sir Alex called him into his office and told him he was going to Third Division Preston on loan. "I thought it was a sign that the club was trying to get rid of me," Beckham admitted. Five games and two goals later, and with lessons learned off the pitch ("You go to somewhere like Preston and realise life is not like it is at United"), Beckham had improved dramatically.
"At first I had to bully and cajole him a bit," Peters admitted. "But he soon got the message and the fans loved him. We helped his education in that he became tougher, more competitive and resilient. You knew you were watching someone special and I was not surprised when Alex Ferguson said he was taking him back. Alex knew that David had found the physical side to his game." A week after playing against Lincoln he made his United league debut against Leeds United. "That month at Preston was one of the most exciting times in my whole career," said Becks afterwards.
"Eric Cantona was a very big influence on me," says Becks. "He was my role model, the best player I've ever played with. The way he trained, the way he played, the way he was on and off the pitch... to play alongside him was an honour." Little did he know that he'd later assume his no.7 shirt, but it was also the way Eric approached the game that impressed Becks. The way the Frenchman would stay behind after hours to practice aand the way he led the team - none of it was lost on the young Beckham. "If Eric was in the dressing room, I would find myself watching him, checking what he was doing, trying to work out exactly how he prepared for a game."
At the 1998 World Cup, it all went wrong for David Beckham: a hero four days previously after scoring a brilliant free-kick against Colombia, he was demonised when he was sent off in the second-round match against Argentina. Just after half time, having been clattered and had his hair tugged contemptuously by Diego Simeone, a prostrate Beckham kicked out and the Argentine midfielder dramatically went to ground. Becks was red-carded. What followed after England's defeat on penalties was a castigation of titanic proportions, with Beckham, then just 23, pilloried by all and sundry. When the 1998/99 season kicked off he was the most vilified player in the country. Yet the way in which he carried himself, coupled with performances on the field that established himself as the world's best crosser, led to him scooping an historic Treble. United fans played their part too, chanting his name with increased gusto all around the country as it show of support for their man.
“As soon as I got back to Old Trafford I realised there were still people who loved me,” he told United. But the defining moment came when the Reds drew Simeone's Inter Milan in the Champions League quarter-finals. Would Becks get even? Would Simeone seek retribution? The world waited, but neither happened. Instead Beckham stole the show with a phenomenal performance, making both goals in United's 2-0 first-leg win, and afterwards he swapped shirts with the ineffectual Argentinian. His game had risen to another level and he was resurrected in the eyes of the public and the media. "The whole World Cup experience;' concluded Becks, "is central to the person I am now."