It felt inevitable when David Beckham fielded questions on the main stage that the conversation would turn to his new working relationship with Lionel Messi.
What he might not have expected was for a member of the crowd to challenge him as to why he had recruited the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner to Inter Miami instead of Salford City, the other club Beckham co-owns , which is based. near Manchester and plays in the fourth tier of English football.
“Yes, I’m part owner of Salford City,” Beckham began. “And Salford is a great place. But of course Argentina is closer to Miami than Salford. I think it was quite a move for Leo…”
It was at that moment that Beckham stopped himself from saying more with a telling smile that told his audience that he might have already let off too much.
Officially, Messi’s move to Miami’s MLS side is still meant to be something of a secret as Beckham and his colleagues work on the big reveal that will (possibly) be announced this week. Something special is being planned because it has to be pretty special when the player in question is Messi – 2022 World Cup winner, superstar, international soccer royalty.
It’s just hard to keep up the pretense when the secret is unofficially out, and Messi has already confirmed that instead of returning to longtime club Barcelona, he’s leaving Paris Saint-Germain to spray his magic across Major League Soccer .
“A couple of weeks ago I woke up to about a million messages on my phone,” Beckham said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on? I don’t usually get that many messages.'” All of a sudden I hear that Leo has come out and announced that he’s coming to Miami. Of course, it wasn’t a surprise to me.
“I’ve always said from the beginning that if I had the opportunity to bring the best players in the game to Miami, at any point in their careers, I would do it. I’ve always made a commitment to our fans.
“So when I hear that one of the best players – if not that best player — who has won everything in the game, who is still a great player, still young and still doing what he’s doing, wants to play for my team, it’s a huge moment for us.”
These were Beckham’s first public words about Messi’s signing and they were delivered at St Johns Wood United Synagogue in north London as part of a revealing and sometimes emotional ‘Lessons In Leadership’ talk for the newly formed Lira Winston Fellowships.
Lady Winston, a famous Jewish educator, died in 2021. Her son, Ben, is a friend of Beckham and a co-executive producer of American television’s The Late Late Show With James Corden.
All of which brought nearly 700 people to the synagogue for a 90-minute question-and-answer session that served as a reminder of how Beckham’s appeal, 10 years after he retired from the game, extends far beyond football.
Yes, there were questions about his days at Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan, PSG and all the moments that helped shape Beckham’s 115-game professional life for England.
We heard about the red card against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup and how all these years later it still haunts him. “I still think about it, most weeks,” Beckham said. “Without a doubt it still affects me.”
There were nostalgic memories of the free-kick goal against Greece that took England to the next World Cup and re-established him as a national hero.
But there were also questions from business people who wanted professional advice. There were members of the audience who asked for Beckham’s views on the good and bad of social media. One guy wanted to discuss what had gone wrong at United since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. But there was also a mother asking for help on how to balance her sons’ football dreams with school life.
Beckham flashed that bright smile and addressed the young boys sitting with her. “Remember,” he said, “mother is always right.”
Just a few minutes’ walk from the Abbey Road zebra crossing made famous by The Beatles’ album cover, there were also reminders that the man in question, now a 48-year-old father of four, once experienced his own form. of Beatlemania.
A woman’s voice quivered as she was handed the microphone and given the opportunity to ask a question to the man who captained England for six years. It was, she explained, “emotional and very special”.
Then there was the story Beckham told of his famous goal against Wimbledon, when the midfielder, then a fresh 21-year-old, tried his luck from just inside his own half and scored from 60 yards.
Everyone remembers the ball looping in, the flailing arms of the beaten goalkeeper and the triumphant look on Beckham’s face with outstretched arms. What people might never have heard about was the reaction in the away dressing room at Selhurst Park afterwards and what it specifically told us about Ferguson.
“One of my heroes was Eric Cantona,” Beckham said. “He didn’t say much, Eric. But he came up to me after the game. ‘David… what a goal’. It was almost as good as scoring it.
“Hi, I’m Eric.” An interview with Cantona
“I went up to the boss. I thought he was going to say, ‘Great goal’ and put his arms around me. He said, ‘Get on the bus – and don’t talk to anyone’. But that was his way of protecting me. He didn’t want me to talk to any media because he knew what that goal would do.”
Beckham went on to become one of the most famous people on the planet, aka Goldenballs, not just as a football player, but as a leader of fashion and culture (although he admitted that he regretted that his hair was in kinks in all the photographs of him where he met Nelson Mandela).
That fame, Beckham acknowledged, led to some tense exchanges between himself and Ferguson, particularly after he began dating Victoria Adams, then a Spice Girls pop star and now his wife of 24 years.
“I always felt that I wanted to start my career at Manchester United and finish my career at Manchester United,” Beckham said. “I had no intention of leaving at any time and I would not play for any other club.”
So how did it feel in the summer of 2003 when he found out Ferguson had decided to sell him? “For the next three years I couldn’t even watch United on TV. Being at United and supporting them for as long as I had was obviously annoying.”
The theme of this speech was leadership, and no matter how strained it got with Ferguson, it was remarkable how much respect there was in Beckham’s voice when he spoke about his former manager.
He also mentioned how, growing up, it was a different kind of tough love he experienced from his father, Ted, who worked as a gas fitter. How hard exactly? “I used to end up in tears every time I got into the car after games. No matter how I played, he (Ted) would always pick out the things I hadn’t done right,” Beckham said.
“The only time I can remember my dad turning to me and saying, ‘Boy, you’ve done it’ or ‘Boy, you’ve done well’ was when I won my 100th cap for England .
Don’t take this the wrong way. He was glad it had been, he explained, because it had helped him build the strength of character that saw him through the most challenging times of his career. Because let’s face it, there were times when Beckham was a hate figure.
To illustrate this point, Beckham was reminded of how his kick against Argentina’s Diego Simeone in France ’98 had led to him being vilified in the tabloid newspapers.
The Daily Mirror’s front page headline – 10 heroic lions, one stupid boy – flashed up on the screen behind him. So was the mocked-up dart board, again in the mirror, which had Beckham’s face as its centrepiece. Even worse, there was the photo of Beckham appearing in a noose outside a London pub. And a quarter of a century later, it seems almost inconceivable that the coverage could be so evil.
Beckham spoke about how happy he is that in today’s world there is more understanding of mental health issues.
“It was tough, but it was tougher on my family than me,” Beckham said. “I try not to get emotional, but that’s what worried me more than anything else.
“I remember my grandfather calling me and saying, ‘David, I’ve got people knocking on the door saying you’ve failed the whole country and failed your whole family, what can I say?’.
“I couldn’t drive around London. I couldn’t walk around London. I couldn’t go to restaurants. I couldn’t go to bars. Even my friends wouldn’t go out with me. They knew I would be abused. If I stopped at traffic lights, people would hit or spit on my car.
“That sort of thing happened to me daily for quite a few years.”
These days, Beckham’s devotion is to the team sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table after 19 games this MLS season.
It has been, he said, one of the more challenging yet satisfying experiences of his career, considering that Inter Miami was created only five years ago. A new stadium, Miami Freedom Park, is being built for them to play in and Beckham tried not to mention The Big Messi (Non) Secret too often, opting to say that there were “exciting times ahead. “
As for his own style of leadership, Beckham spoke of the values of hard work, leading by example, never allowing complacency to set in and being so dedicated to his craft that Victoria cried when he was invited to PSG and left the family home. in London, aged 37.
It touched him, he said, that someone as hard to please as Roy Keane, his former captain at United, would often praise his work ethic and professionalism, contrary to Ferguson’s suspicions that Beckham might be distracted by his fame and lifestyle.
Disappointingly, Beckham was not asked how difficult it had been for him to remove Phil Neville, his long-time friend and former United team-mate, as Miami manager last month. Or indeed the controversy of being an ambassador for host nation Qatar in the recent Men’s World Cup.
But there were other examples of what he believed to be good and bad leadership.
One topic of conversation, returning in 1998 for the last time, was Glenn Hoddle, then England manager, who publicly blamed him for the team’s World Cup exit as the 10 men went on to lose the last 16 tie with Argentina on penalties. What kind of leadership was that? “I first heard what Glenn said recently,” Beckham said. “I was surprised, but people say things in the heat of the moment and everyone was hurting at the time.”
Beckham has been reminded of these comments because he is helping Netflix put together a biography of his life.
“There was a manager in that dressing room,” he added. “I was obviously upset. (Arsenal defender) Tony Adams put his arm around me and said: ‘Son, don’t worry about it. You made a mistake, move on’. He was incredible with me and I will never forget that moment.”
‘He’s like a god here’: What Lionel Messi will get in Miami
(Top photo: Ira L. Black – Corbis/Getty Images)