David Beckham

... won his first full international cap in a World Cup qualifying match against Moldova on 1 September 1996. He played in all eight of England's qualifying games for the 1998 World Cup, but in the finals tournament he was left out of the first two games because Glenn Hoddle felt he had his mind more on his private life and his Spice Girl fiancée than on football. Beckham of course disagreed, as did his club manager Alex Ferguson.

Beckham was picked to start in the third game, against Colombia, and he scored with a spectacular free–kick in a 2–0 victory. It was his first goal for England.

It was in England's next game, against Argentina in the Round of 16, that Beckham was sent off for retaliating to what Sports Illustrated described as a "heavy–handed challenge" by the Argentinian midfielder Diego Simeone. The match ended in a 2–2 draw, and England (needless to say) lost on penalties.

Beckham was subsequently vilified by both fans and press alike, but he played a major role in helping England qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals, including the famous 5–1 victory over Germany in Munich. The final step in his conversion from villain to national hero came in England's final qualifying game, against Greece on 6 October 2001. England needed at least a draw to guarantee qualification for the finals. With little time remaining and England losing 2–1, Teddy Sheringham was fouled eight yards outside the Greek penalty area, and Beckham secured qualification with a curling free kick of the kind that had become his trademark. He was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year for that year (2001), and runner–up (to Luí­s Figo of Portugal) for the FIFA World Player of the Year award.

By the time of the 2002 World Cup Finals tournament, in Japan and South Korea, Beckham was only partially fit; but he played in the first match against Sweden. He then achieved a degree of revenge over Argentina by scoring the winning goal with a penalty, which meant that Argentina failed to qualify for the knockout stage. England defeated Denmark 3–0 in the second round, with Beckham providing an assist, but they were knocked out in the quarter–finals by eventual winners Brazil, after Ronaldinho's spectacular winner.

In the 2006 Finals Tournament in Germany, Beckham was credited with assists in each of England's three First Round games (including one for an own goal by Paraguay's Carlos Gamarra, in the opening game). In the Second Round, against Ecuador, he scored from a free kick in the 59th minute, becoming the first English player to score in three separate World Cups and giving England a 1–0 victory and a place in the quarter–finals. He was sick before the game, and vomited several times, as a result of dehydration. In the quarter–final, against Portugal, Beckham was substituted following an injury shortly after half time; England went on to lose on penalties yet again, the score having been 0–0 after extra time. Beckham was visibly shaken and emotional on being substituted. The following day, a still–emotional Beckham announced in a news conference that he had stepped down as England captain, stating, "It has been an honour and privilege to captain my country but ... I feel the time is right to pass on the armband as we enter a new era under Steve McClaren." He was succeeded by John Terry.

Beckham went on to make a total of 115 appearances for England – more than any other outfield player – scoring 17 goals. His gained his last cap in the final qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup – a 3–0 victory over Belarus, on 14 October 2009. He ruptured his achilles tendon in March 2010, and was omitted from the squad for the finals tournament – Fabio Capello stating that "David is a fantastic player but I think we need new players for the future".

He won League championships in four different countries: six in England with Manchester United (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003), one in Spain with Real Madrid (2007, in the last of his four seasons there), two in the USA with LA Galaxy (2011 and 2012 – the last two of his five seasons there) and one in France with Paris Saint Germain (2013, after playing the second half of the season). In 2016, Reddit listed no fewer than fifteen players who were said to have done this, but the list included Thierry Henry who only won the Eastern Conference and the Supporters' Shield with New York Red Bulls – the real US/Canada champions being the eventual winners of the MLS Cup, which NYRB have never won. I don't know how reliable the other entries on Reddit's list are (I can't be bothered to check). Beckham is the only British player on the list. He's actually the second player listed, after Zlatan Ibrahimovic; as far as I can tell, Beckham and Ibrahimovic both won their fourth different national League title with PSG in 2013. Whether they were the first to do so, I have been unable to establish.

© Haydn Thompson 2017