In the late 1990s and early 2000s, before the Ronaldo-Messi era, before the Mbappés and Neymars, there was David Beckham. This was a boy from London, playing for Manchester United, who decided to lob the then Wimbledon FC goalkeeper Neil Sullivan from almost 60 yards out on the opening day of the 1996-97 Premier League season.
The goal changed his life. It also marks the starting point in director Fisher Stevens’ new Netflix documentary series, Beckham, on the former England football team captain, which gives an intimate view into the player’s life and career.
Behind Beckham, the gifted footballer—renowned for his mercurial wing play, pinpoint passing and unmatchable free kicks—was a shy, homesick boy who grew in stature for both club and country. His relationship, and eventual marriage, with Victoria Adams, or Posh Spice of the English girl group Spice Girls, added the X-factor.
In the years that followed, Beckham became a global superstar and style icon. At one point, he was the highest paid sportsperson in England. Adams called him “goldenballs”. What he wore, people wanted to buy. His haircuts—from the iconic mohawk to the chic ponytail—were imitated by young and old.
His appeal was universal, as the documentary shows. You went to Japan: they knew Beckham. You went to China: they knew Beckham. You went to any far-flung corner of the world—they knew him. One segment of the documentary, which recaps the pull of Beckham’s brand and commercial value when he signed for Real Madrid in 2003, describes a hilarious attempt by The Sun newspaper, with reporters sent to all corners of the world to see if they could find someone who had not heard of the player. Eventually, the tabloid claimed to have found a shepherd in Chad who did not know about Beckham.
Growing up in the parks and gardens of Delhi, which offer less than ideal football playing conditions, one would often be teased for trying something out of the ordinary with the ball: Who do you think you are? Beckham? That was the kind of reach and impression he had on many as they fell in love with a sport very few in the world dislike. He still retains the charm—as his ambassadorial association with Qatar, albeit controversial, for the recent Fifa World Cup shows.
Writers and journalists John Carlin and David Goldblatt are part of an impressive list of interviewees that includes former players like Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Roy Keane, (the Brazilian) Ronaldo, Luis Figo, and managers Sir Alex Ferguson, Fabio Capello and Carlos Queiroz, who managed him at different points in his career.
Yet, the documentary does leave you wanting more. Beckham, for one, is not too outspoken, often shy and repetitive. It is perhaps a reflection of his personality. Big and loud on the football pitch, but a man of few words in front of the cameras.
There’s a close look at his relationship with his parents, particularly his father Ted—a lifelong Manchester United supporter who gave his son the middle name Robert, after former United player and legend Bobby Charlton.
The four-part documentary offers insight into the pressure that modern-day athletes, and their families, face daily. One minute, you are the darling of anation, and one mistake later (his infamous red card against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup in France), you are public enemy No.1.
Beckham’s impact on football while he played was immense. The MLS (the US’ Major League Soccer) introduced a new rule called the David Beckham Rule, which allowed the LA Galaxy team to bypass a salary cap to sign him in 2007. This designated player rule and system is still part of the MLS.
Today, Beckham owns the Inter Miami football club. Lionel Messi plays for him. Stevens’ documentary shows football was all that Beckham ever knew and maybe we have yet to see the last of him in the world of football.
Also read: Ted Lasso’s life of tryin’