But David Beckham ends his playing career with the status of an ambassador for the sport, a footballing role model around the world and a global fashion icon.
The 38-year-old announced yesterday that he will retire from football at the end of this season after winning the French league title with Paris St-Germain.
Although best known for his time with Manchester United, the Leytonstone-born midfielder has also played for Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and AC Milan, and lifted 19 trophies including ten league ttles.
He also holds the record of being the only English player to win championships in four countries and became England’s most capped outfield player with 115 appearances.
His personal celebrity led to him becoming a fashion icon – he was once famously photographed wearing a sarong – and his marriage to former Spice Girl Victoria, with whom he has four children, meant that his private life has been subject of constant scrutiny.
Beckham said: “If you had told me as a young boy I would have played for and won trophies with my boyhood club Manchester United, proudly captained and played for my country over 100 times and lined up for some of the biggest clubs in the world, I would have told you it was a fantasy. I’m fortunate to have realised those dreams.
“To this day, one of my proudest achievements is captaining my country.”
He added: “Now is the right time to finish my career, playing at the highest level.”
Beckham’s announcement came barely a week after his mentor, Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson revealed he is also stepping down at the end of this season. Beckham was brought into the side by Sir Alex during the early 1990s as one of the team’s youth players, known as “Fergie’s Fledglings”, and was both nurtured and protected by the manager during the turbulent early days of his career.
However, his relationship with Sir Alex ended in acrimony, as the manager became increasingly irritated with the player’s fame and publicity-grabbing private life.
Sir Alex later said that Beckham’s marriage had been the cause of much of the acrimony.
“Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing – from that moment, his life was never going to be the same,” Sir Alex said.”
Tributes poured in to a player nicknamed Golden Balls. Former England boss Steve McClaren described him as “an inspiring personality” who “made the very most of his talents”.