The Greatest XI: Bend It Like Beckham

Football began over 150 years ago. For myself, personally, it began in 1990. At the age of ten, I fell in love with the sport and of course Manchester United. Watching the FA Cup Final with my father and his mates, followed by Italia ’90. It really did capture my imagination, which got me thinking, what or rather who would be my dream Manchester United eleven? Over the coming weeks, I shall be selecting my one to eleven.

6. David Beckham – Right Midfield

The mid 90’s saw a shift in the power on the pitch at Old Trafford. Out went experienced campaigners and fan favourites Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis, to be replaced by an extraordinary group of young players. The Neville brothers, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, were all given the responsibility by Sir Alex Ferguson, to fill the gaps and maintain the club’s recent winning streak.

Although the previous season had ended with United missing out on the title by one point to Blackburn Rovers and a Paul Rideout goal enough to see Everton to victory in the FA Cup final, Ferguson believed that these lads were the answer. The youthful exuberance which would push the older squad members to higher heights. David Beckham would be given his chance to shine.

Neither the quickest player on the pitch or played as an orthodox, get chalk on your boots wide man, Beckham would develop a talent that would go against any kind of rule book written for a winger. His first touch and delivery into the box was the best I have ever seen. The ball would be played out wide to Beckham, maybe only midway into the opposition’s half, he would take one touch to shift the ball out of his feet and deliver a ball into the most dangerous area of the box. Keepers would be too scared to come for the ball as it would more often than not tend to ark away at the last moment. The strikers, Cole, York, Solskjaer, Sheringham, Van Nistelrooy and Eric Cantona, would already be making their runs, knowing that the ball would go exactly where he had put it a hundred times in training.

The blonde floppy haired Londoner made his debut in 1995 and soon cemented his place on the right of midfield. Beckham was actually good in the air, and although didn’t score many with his head, would contribute massively when United would have goal kicks. Back then, there was none of this playing out from the back. Peter Schmeichel would pump the ball long down the pitch, Beckham’s starting position would be right on the touchline, then dart ten to fifteen yards inside, to flick on the header.

“He is a tremendous player and he has contributed so much to the success of Manchester United. He is a world-class performer, so any team would want to accommodate him”. – Zinedine Zidane

Beckham had another weapon in his armoury. His dead ball skills were actually frightening. Not only could he whip in a corner to put even the best defences under pressure, he also had an unbelievable talent for free kicks. His attitude in training spilled out onto the pitch. Intense practice of his dead ball delivery enabled Beckham to produce moments of absolute magic when the pressure was on. During the Champions League final in 1999, Beckham had already taken the corner which led to United’s equaliser in the dying seconds of injury time. 60 seconds later and United were given another. Beckham had remembered that when he was a youth player, if he had put in a poor cross in training, Schmeichel would go absolutely mental at him, Beckham said it was moments like this which shaped his career.

” Beckham, into Sheringham…and Solskjaer has won it”

Let’s not forget that Beckham would also score some absolute worldies. The half way line strike in the opening day win over Wimbledon in 1997, the equaliser on the final day of the season against Tottenham Hotspur, en route to the treble. The forgotten goal, which was scored in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal. The free kicks at Anfield, his final goal for United, away at Everton in 2003. An absolute quality showreel.

“How can you forget that 60-yard goal? He tried it about 10 minutes before he scored and I said to my assistant Brian Kidd, “If he tries that again, he’s off.”  – Sir Alex Ferguson

For all his highs, there was an almighty low. His sending off during the World Cup encounter for England against Argentina. A petulant kick out on Diego Simeone, saw Beckham see red and England exit by the usual exit of a penalty shoot-out. Fans back in England were burning effigies of Beckham. Sir Alex rallied the troops and made Old Trafford a closed shop. No one was going to pick on our David.

The first game of the treble winning season was a home match against Leicester City, Beckham’s first outing since the shame of the summer. ‘There’s only one David Beckham’ rung out around Old Trafford for nearly the whole match, and didn’t he reply in style. Leicester hadn’t read the script and were 2-0 up within the hour. Beckham would grab the game by the scruff of the neck and drag his team to scrape a draw. His deflected shot before the end had brought United right back into the game. Then with the game ticking into 94 minutes, Beckham stepped up and curled a delicious free-kick into the bottom corner. The roof nearly blew off the stadium.

“I have nightmares about France 98. It was humiliating. It will always be with me”.  – David Beckham

His celebrity status would expand by quite a bit once married to Spice Girl, Victoria Adams. The Beckham’s would become a brand name, which Sir Alex would later be reported as suggesting his life was becoming a circus. The infamous boot incident, in where after crashing out of the FA Cup at home to Arsenal, Ferguson was supposed to have kicked a boot in Beckham’s direction, smashing him on the head, certainly didn’t help things. It seemed the relationship was never the same after and Beckham would soon be on his way out of Old Trafford, off to Real Madrid.

David Beckham’s honours at United would include six Premier League medals, a Champions League trophy, two FA Cups, Intercontinental Cup and the FA Youth Cup. 85 goals were scored in just shy of 400 appearances. His individual honours would include Ballon d’O runner-up in 1999, Uefa club footballer of the year 1999, Uefa midfielder of the year 1999, Fifa world player of the year- silver player 1999-2000, PFA young player of the year 1996-97, Premier League team of the year on four occasions 97, 98, 99, 2000, Goal of the decade 1997 and the Sir Matt Busby award for 1997.

Ronaldo was pushing Beckham close for this position but Becks just about edges it. Possibly the best player that I have ever seen live. And who can forget that free kick for England against Greece?! The brylcreem boy of Old Trafford is wide right for this Greatest XI.

About the Author

John McNicoll
Southern Red and Football enthusiast.