FOX Sports Insider
As with any other good sports documentary that gets binged obsessively, Netflix’s “Beckham” – about retired English soccer superstar, fashion icon and Spice Girl husband David Beckham – leads to a whole extra wave of discussion and plenty more questions once the final credits roll.
In the case of the former Manchester United, Real Madrid, Los Angeles Galaxy and England national team midfielder, the post-watch chatter is more vibrant than most, making it a kind of “Last Dance” for soccer, and there are a number of very good reasons for that.
One is that enough time has passed for a younger audience who knew of Beckham, but weren’t around to experience it fully at the time, to gain a sporting and pop culture history lesson. For a slightly older crew who remember it playing out, this is a glimpse behind the curtain at certain flashpoints – his temporary feud with legendary coach Sir Alex Ferguson, his infamous World Cup red card, and yep, his saucy alleged affair in Spain – that weren’t fully explained at the time.
Beckham never fully left the spotlight but he is back in the center of it now, having signed Lionel Messi in his role as co-owner of Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami. When Messi won the Ballon D’Or this week to again recognize him as the world’s best player, Beckham presented the Argentinian with the trophy at a glittering ceremony in Paris.
I was around for part of the “Beckham Experiment,” as late soccer writer Grant Wahl’s book titled Beckham’s move to the United States in 2007, covering the Galaxy for the first two seasons of that deal.
After the Netflix doc was released, the question I’m getting more than any other is this: is Beckham just as nice a guy as the series makes him out to be?
The answer is a little complicated and has some layers. But, for the most part? Yes, he is.
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Beckham’s isn’t a regular guy in the same way that LeBron James or Tom Brady aren’t regular guys, or even – and this is actually quite a striking parallel – Travis Kelce isn’t a regular guy, because they don’t have regular lives.
Good guy, though? Most of those who passed through Beckham orbit, especially during his time in the United States, believe so.
Michael Randolph was a second-year left-back for the Galaxy during Beckham’s first season. MLS had only 13 teams compared to 29 now and was a very different league back then, financially more than anything.
Randolph made $17,700 that year – try living on that in Los Angeles – while Beckham earned $6.5 million plus a slew of add-ons to his contract, the most valuable of which turned out to be a future option to acquire an MLS franchise at a bargain price.
On Galaxy road trips, the players would share rooms and received their hotel key cards in the lobby upon arrival. Beckham, as part of his agreement upon signing, would have his own room, typically one of the property’s nicer suites.
On a trip to Denver, Randolph was given a key and headed to the room number he had been assigned. When he opened the door, he was greeted by a lavish suite and Beckham was sat by the window, texting on his phone.
Randolph immediately realized there had been a mistake but said Beckham seemed unfazed at the prospect of sharing his fancy digs. “Come on in, mate,” Randolph remembered his illustrious teammate saying.
“I moonwalked out of there,” Randolph told me, laughing.
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It was an odd world for the Galaxy players. Most of them were making a comparative pittance, but living a quasi-rockstar lifestyle. On a preseason tour of South Korea, a police escort was needed to shepherd the Galaxy through throngs of screaming fans and to keep the paparazzi at bay.
Beckham arranged some favors for his teammates, fixing up brand-new suits for everyone through his connections at Hugo Boss, and bought everyone a smartphone – still a novelty back then. Randolph gave his to his father, who loved it.
“Anyone can pretend to be a nice guy, but you can’t fake it forever,” said Randolph, 37, who now runs a successful soccer coaching and personal training business in the California’s Inland Empire. “Ultimately, David was on a different level because of what he had achieved, but he wanted to be one of the guys. Because of his fame and standing, he got a few privileges but when it came to training, he definitely didn’t want any special treatment.
“After the documentary, I am getting all the same kind of questions. It is always the moms who are most interested, they want to know everything about Beckham and [his wife] Victoria and all about it. Some of the kids too. I don’t have anything bad to say about him, and I don’t think any of his other teammates would either.”
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A popular England national team fan chant paying tribute to the free-kick expert goes like this: “One David Beckham, there’s only one David Beckham …”
Yet FOX soccer analyst and former U.S. national team defender Alexi Lalas – who was the Galaxy’s general manager when Beckham moved over – insists there are actually two.
“It is important to make a point to differentiate between David Beckham the man and David Beckham the machine,” Lalas said. “I found David to be wonderful and kind and courteous, and he did everything we asked of him. Any problems I had were with the machine, everything and everyone who manages the Beckham brand so carefully. But the machine didn’t happen by accident, he wanted it to be that way too.”
Some aspects of the documentary have been questioned for factual accuracy, London’s Sunday Times highlighting six key elements that received some Hollywood spin from director Fisher Stevens and his team.
Such, perhaps, is the nature of the ever-increasing collection of “authorized” sports docs hitting various outlets. The show has, however, been well-received by viewers and critics.
“You have to remember this is a David Beckham documentary, about David Beckham, by David Beckham,” Lalas said. “Of course, this is going to be told the way he wants it to be told.
“Like everyone, I had some questions … But there was a lot of interesting things and he is still a fascinating character for soccer fans and non-soccer fans.
“From what I saw, I can say this. I truly believe David has a very genuine love for his family, his kids and his wife. That is absolutely real. Also, I think he realizes the good fortune he has had in his life and he appreciates it. He never gave me the feeling that he took anything for granted despite having lived in this soccer bubble from a very young age. That says something about him.”
Speaking to various individuals who encountered Beckham over the years, people like coaches of his children’s youth soccer teams, club staff, PR executives and so on, left little doubt to me that in his personal interactions Beckham gave a singularly positive impression.
He loves cars, and would always drive a different one to training, and seemed happiest when talking about vehicles, tattoos and soccer, with a heavy sprinkling of swear words mixed into the conversation.
When son Brooklyn’s team would play, he’d stand behind the team bench as opposed to sitting with the other parents in the bleachers, but would tag along as part of the group if the families went for a post-game meal at Subway.
He likes having famous friends, which is far from being an egregious character flaw, and has without any doubt had a transformative effect on soccer in North America.
What you see on the screen isn’t the full story, but it’s not a totally whitewashed one, either. At its essence, the documentary portrays Beckham as a devoted family man, an intense competitor and a good guy.
Two decades on from the peak of his career, those things still hold true.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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