When you think of David Beckham in this day and age, it’s easy to forget just how good a footballer he truly was.
The owner of Inter Miami CF was once a superstar on the pitch as well as off it, captaining his country for the best part of a decade and representing the biggest clubs in Europe throughout an illustrious career that saw him win 17 major trophies.
Most synonymous with Beckham’s name is probably his time at Manchester United, where he broke through as part of the famous ‘Class of 92’ from the youth academy with the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt.
He was the golden boy of that group and key to United’s treble success in 1999, a year where he was runner-up in the Ballon d’Or voting behind only Rivaldo.
He left Old Trafford rather unceremoniously in 2003 after a fallout with Sir Alex Ferguson and joined Real Madrid before moving to Major League Soccer with LA Galaxy to blaze a path for the league out there too. While in the States, Beckham would come back to Europe on loan during the off-season to maintain fitness and keep his hopes of an England recall alive.
One of those loan spells took him to San Siro with AC Milan, where he played alongside the likes of Ronaldinho, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Nesta. He only featured 13 times for the Rossoneri, but one of those fixtures was an emotional return to Manchester.
It was the first time that Beckham and United had crossed paths since his departure seven years prior and it was a game that had a huge bearing on both teams’ seasons. The Champions League last 16 drew the two European giants together and it was United who took the advantage from the first leg, with a 3-2 win at San Siro – Beckham playing 72 minutes.
The return leg was centred around his return, with many believing United would progress to the next round after scoring three away goals. It was the return of the golden boy, the man who grew up at the club and left to become a mega-star – the type that Ferguson never allowed himself to have in his squads for fear of complacency.
Beckham started the game on bench and the Reds went 3-0 up on the night to all but secure qualification into the quarter-finals before we saw him, meaning the atmosphere in the stadium was joyous rather than nervous.
As he replaced Ignazio Abate, the crowd rose to their feet and gave a huge ovation for their returning superstar which literally brought tears to his eyes. United fans began a vocal serenading of their legendary former number seven, with his old ‘Beckham! Beckham! Beckham!’ chant getting a run-out.
It was almost the dream return for him too, as he caught the ball falling out of the sky with a volley that in his own words he ‘caught too well’ and saw Edwin Van der Sar parry to safety.
United came out 4-0 winners on the night and as the final whistle went, the cameras all panned immediately to Becks. He was greeted by former Reds teammate and international colleague Rio Ferdinand with a hug and then turned down the defender’s request for a shirt swap.
He stood in the centre circle and soaked in the applause he received from the fans, with his name ringing out once again as he applauded every stand. The home fans remembered his time at the club and despite the not so glamorous end to his United career, he was still a hero in their eyes.
He further endeared himself to the crowd as he left the pitch in tears, picking up a green and gold scarf from the ground that had been thrown from the stands and put it around his neck. The scarf represented the colours of Newton Heath, the original club colours, and was being used in protest against the Glazer family.
Beckham knew this, the world knew, and while he never publicly backed the protests or spoke about the situation, it was a moment fans have never forgotten.
Once a red, always a red, and Beckham is without a doubt a red.