Mend it like Beckham

Beckham CSLI’ve already had people ask me what time David Beckham is arriving on Wednesday so they can camp out early at the airport. Whether he appeals to smitten females or potential soccer fans (or both), one thing is certain: Beckham’s visit to China will be crazy. Let’s just hope no one gets trampled….

Here’s my Sports Talk column from today’s Global Times on how he’s made a career out of proving the doubters wrong:

David Beckham’s magical mystery tour

At the peak of his career, more than a decade ago, David Beckham was twice voted the second best player in the world. Compare that to Lionel Messi, who, at 25, has won top honors on four consecutive occasions, and could easily double that total before he hangs up his boots.

But where Messi will never outstrip Beckham is off the field, an area he continues to dominate around the world. Beckham arrives in Beijing on Wednesday to begin his new role as ambassador for Chinese soccer, and national broadcaster CCTV will carry his opening press conference live. It’s likely to be a predictably fawning affair, drawn out by lengthy passages of translation, but the fact that it will be shown to the nation elevates Beckham to the level of royalty, or, to use its Chinese name, Yao Ming.

It’s hard to believe that Beckham himself was once overshadowed. When he first met his wife-to-be, Victoria, 16 years ago, he was very much the lesser star. At the time, he had won just one of the nine league championships he’s now racked up, while she had topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and was touring the world with the Spice Girls.

It’s easy to knock the latest chapter in his life: donating his salary at Paris Saint-Germain to charity will surely pay dividends in endorsements, while promoting soccer in China for a (comparatively) small fee will likewise endear him to a huge new market.

But King David’s march has been relentless: Beckham’s career is a case study in brand marketing, and time and again he’s shown never to count him out. At Real Madrid, Beckham fell out of favor with manager Fabio Capello after announcing plans to relocate to Hollywood. But he won back his place and helped Real to clinch the league title, earning an international recall in the process.

Similarly, his career in the US started badly: injuries meant the fans who turned up to see him play instead watched him warm the bench, and extended loans spells playing for AC Milan alienated many Galaxy fans back in LA. But once he buckled down to the task in hand, he ended his time in the US with back-to-back MLS (Major League Soccer) Cups and his five years in the US saw the sport’s standing improved immeasurably.

It’s not known exactly how Beckham plans to boost the beautiful game in China, but if history is any guide, he’ll find a way.

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