Life after retirement is as busy as ever for David Beckham
Since hanging up his boots, David Beckham has been busy establishing himself as a major global brand. He explains why China remains firmly on his fixture list
Like the flight of one of his trademark free kicks, the trajectory of Beckham's post-soccer career is the epitome of finely crafted perfection. Since quitting the game a little more than a year ago, the former Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and England star has wasted no time in proving that brand Beckham is just as much of a force off the pitch as on.
In the US, where he played for LA Galaxy between 2007 and 2012, he is in the process of creating his own Major League Soccer club based in Miami, Florida. He recently announced plans to build a US$250 million stadium close to the city's famous waterfront.
After a stint as Britain's most prominent Olympic ambassador in 2012, he moved back to London last year. Beckham has been generating plenty of column inches in the national press, not least for the reported £40 million (HK$522 million) purchase of a Kensington mansion to share with his fashion designer wife Victoria and children Brooklyn, 15, Romeo, 11, Cruz, nine and Harper, two.
But it's arguably in Asia that Beckham is creating the most buzz, following up a one-year role as global ambassador for Chinese soccer with a string of high-profile partnerships that seem destined to see his star rise still further on the mainland and beyond.
It was one of these partnerships, with Las Vegas Sands, that brought Beckham to Macau in late April. The deal between Sands and Beckham Ventures will see the two brands developing Beckham-inspired restaurants, retail and other leisure concepts to be unveiled at the resort developer's properties in Macau and Singapore in the near future, and the trip marked Beckham's second visit to the city in just five months. This followed a whirlwind tour of China, where he launched a charitable fund to promote youth soccer, unveiled the Jaguar F-Type Coupé as the new face of the British marque, showed off his ball-juggling skills on The Voice of China and officially took up the role of World Cup ambassador for CCTV-5.
Despite the hectic schedule, Beckham looks relaxed and well-rested when we meet in a function room in The Venetian. Immaculately dressed and impeccably coiffed, he offers a firm handshake and a warm smile as we discuss his past glories and present ventures. The former are in abundance - 115 caps for England (59 as captain) including three World Cups, winning the Champions League with Manchester United, the silverware from England, France, Spain and the US - but we start with the latter, especially his mission to promote the game in China.
"I've had a great fan base here for a long, long time, from playing at Manchester United, Real Madrid, Galaxy and obviously England. I've always had a great relationship with the people in this part of the world," says Beckham, whose contract as China's soccer ambassador ended in March. "The ambassador role was only for a year, but I'll continue to support the youth systems here."
Evidence of this is borne out by the establishment of the Youth Football Fund, which Beckham helped launch at a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, which will initially focus on improving youth training facilities in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. To kick things off, Beckham and Jaguar Land Rover China donated three million yuan (HK$3.8 million) to the fund.
"I think definitely football in China can grow," says Beckham, "it's been through a tough time over the last five years, and obviously the national team has suffered with that. But given the size of the country, it doesn't make sense that there are not better teams and a better national team. That can definitely change over the next few years because there's some great talent here."
Only the staunchest of optimists would dispute the fact that the game in China has a long way to go before it can hope to compete on a global stage, even with brand Beckham behind it. But can he see China challenging for the World Cup within his lifetime? "I'd like to see that," says Beckham, "because it's such a great country, a huge country, very powerful with a lot of people and a lot of talented young kids.
"But obviously the parents need educating, the kids need educating, because the parents here in China believe - well, not every parent, but the majority of parents believe that football is … not an aggressive sport but a sport where their children can get injured. So it's about educating around that. There's no reason why this country can't qualify for the World Cup in the next 10 years and then go from strength to strength."
Turning to this year's World Cup, Beckham says that he may "possibly be in Brazil for a game or two", and will be on hand to give Chinese viewers the benefit of his insight via his role with CCTV - although don't call him a pundit. "I'm not a pundit; I never wanted to go into that kind of area. But what it is, I've done a couple of interviews already about my experience of past World Cups and obviously the World Cup that's coming up as well, and just giving the viewers my view on certain moments throughout my career," says Beckham. "It's kind of a small role, but you can never talk about it being a small role when you're part of CCTV."
There's certainly a lot to talk about as the World Cup has featured some of the greatest highs - and most disappointing lows - of Beckham's career. In France in 1998 he was sent off for a petulant kick at Diego Simeone as England lost to Argentina on penalties, for which the young Beckham was vilified mercilessly by the press. Then there was his redemption against the same team four years later in Japan, scoring a penalty that would ultimately take England through to the next round at the expense of their fierce South American rivals, and a long-range free kick against Ecuador in 2006 that made him the first English player to score in three World Cups. Injury robbed him of the chance to play in his fourth World Cup in 2010.
Among all these moments - and the many others at club level - Beckham says one sticks out head and shoulders above the rest.
"The moment I always look back on and am proudest of was being given the England captain's armband," he says. "I've been lucky to have had great moments in my career, from winning the treble with Manchester United and winning something with each team, but without doubt my proudest moment was being England captain."
So does he think the current crop can go all the way this year? And if not England, who?
"I'm always going to say England, because I'm very patriotic, so I'm always going to be pushing for England to win it. If they don't win it, then I'd like Brazil - for many reasons. I love Brazil as a country, I love the way they play the game, I love how passionate they are, and being the home nation it's even more special," he says, before adding: "I think it's going to be one of the best World Cups."
Becks appeal: career milestones
September 23, 1992
Makes Manchester United debut aged 17 against Brighton in League Cup
December 7, 1994
Scores first goal for Manchester United against Galatasaray in the Champions League
August 17, 1996
Scores a wonder goal from inside his own half for Manchester United against Wimbledon
September 1, 1996
Makes England debut against Moldova
June 10 - July 12, 1998
Plays in first World Cup, scoring a free kick against Colombia before being sent off in the second round against Argentina
May 26, 1999
Helps Manchester United win the Champions League against Bayern Munich
November 15, 2000
Named England captain
October 6, 2001
Scores 30-yard free kick in final minute against Greece to send England to World Cup, voted the greatest ever England goal by fans
July 1, 2003
Joins Real Madrid for 35 million euros(HK$369.6 million)
June 13, 2003
Receives an OBE for services to the game
June 25, 2006
Scores his 17th and final England goal with a free kick against Ecuador at the World Cup in Germany, becoming the first England player to score in three World Cups
July 11, 2007
Joins LA Galaxy on a five-year contract worth US$32.5 million
October 14, 2009
Wins the last of his 115 England caps, a record for an outfield player, against Belarus
May 18, 2013
Retires after playing last game for Paris St Germain and adds French Ligue 1 winner's medal to his trophy cabinet