The almost meteoric rise to fame of David Beckham had humble beginnings. Born in London a stone's throw from West Ham United's Upton Park, his exceptional talents were quickly in demand by the time he reached his early teens. But oddly enough rather than staying close to his roots he jumped at the chance to pursue his dream and play for the club he had followed since his youth, Manchester United. It was a decision that was to reap bountiful rewards for the Northern club while in turn generated a great deal of scorn among Beckham's native Londoners.

Aged only 16, Beckham set down the road towards stardom but fame and fortune were still several years away. Silverware however was much closer at hand as within 10 months of moving north Beckham helped United's Youth Team win the FA Youth Cup in May 1992. Many of the members of the winning team were tipped for big futures, among them Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers. But Beckham was singled out by Alex Ferguson as possibly the most promising of the lot.

However Beckham was not to follow the same route as Ryan Giggs, who was a first team regular by the age of 18. His lack of physical strength meant another two years in the reserves were ahead of him before his first team debut. But when it came he didn't hesitate to grab onto it with both hands. Crippled by injury and suspension going into their Champions' League game with Galatasaray at Old Trafford, United were forced to blood some of their promising yet inexperienced young talent. Beckham was one of these and gave United fans a glimpse of what was to come in years to follow with an assured and confident performance, capped by a debut goal.

Despite long term injuries to Andrei Kanchelskis throughout the remainder of the 1994/95 season Beckham was not ready to step into the first team permanently and not until 1995/96, when the Russian winger had left the club, that his shot at the big time finally came.

Again Beckham wasn't to disappoint, playing an important part in United's second double winning season. But it wasn't until 1996/97 that he was launched fully into the football spotlight. His miraculous 60-yard lob of Wimbledon's Neil Sullivan on the opening day and the spectacular goals that followed, enhanced his reputation as one of England's most promising talents. His England debut against Moldova soon followed in September 1997 and from that point on he was an England regular.

By this time Beckham's talents had truly started to shine. Blessed with a vision not seen from an English midfielder since Glenn Hoddle, his passing both long and short has made him one of the most covetted players in the world. His crossing alone can destroy the most well drilled defence in an instant as proved to such devastating effect against Inter Milan in the 1999 European Cup Quarter-Final at Old Trafford. So accurate and perfectly weighted were Beckham's deliveries that Dwight Yorke only needed to make contact to score both his goals against the Italians.

Armed with such explosive power and control of a football it was inevitable that Beckham would be equally devastating at set pieces. Any corners or free-kicks in and around the oppositions box and Beckham will invariable take it. And if the angle is right (and more often than not it is with Beckham) he is never shy to try a strike at goal, often with unstoppable results. His favourite set piece is a shot to the goalkeepers right, dipping over the wall and curling into the corner. As seen in the 1998 World Cup against Colombia and at Old Trafford in the 3:3 thriller with Barcelona in September 1998.

But aside from his distribution and set pieces, his stamina and dexterity set him even further apart from his peers. With a skillful grace he can change direction in an instant while still remaining in complete control of the ball, allowing him to assess all the options available to him and switch the direction of play with devastating speed. While despite competing in a World Cup and being the most fouled Manchester United player in 1998/99, Beckham played over 50 matches and performed with the same enthusiasm and determination in the last game as he had in the first.

However as with so many other great players blessed with similar talents, their temperament can often be their greatest weakness. Beckham is no different, as a moment of rash anger against Argentina in France '98 so fatefully proved. Public opinion towards Beckham had already been on the slide in the preceeding months as his lifestyle and relationship with Spice Girl Victoria Adams received almost obsessive attention from the British media. His sending off against Argentina for tripping Diego Simeone and England's subsequent defeat on penalties resulted in Beckham becoming the scapegoat and public enemy number one.

Questions about his future in the English game ran wild in the press with many predicting his imminent departure to Italy in order to escape the "boo-boys" that lied in wait in the coming season. But the United team and fans rallied around Beckham as he was unfairly treated by all quarters and his future was never really an issue in reality. He wasn't going to turn tail and run. And within 10 months he had been completely vindicated, producing the best football of his career and being recognised by United fans as their player of the year.

Nobody deserved to lift the European Cup in Barcelona more than David Beckham, having endured so much off the field in the previous months. But his performance alone on the night merited his medal. It was one of his finest in a Red shirt considering the absence of Keane and Scholes and the mental and physical fatigue he must has felt. It only went to prove even more conclusively what a priceless footballing talent he is. Where to next? For David Beckham, there are no limits.

Patrick Eustace 2000. Last modified on Thurs, 27 Jan, 2000

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