LONDON - David Beckham's retirement will bring an end to a soccer career that went far beyond his sport, and turned a gangly teenager from east London into one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.
Hugely gifted as a player, though far from ranking with the greats Pele, Maradona, and Lionel Messi, Beckham has been a true genius via his marketability.
Guided by his Spice Girl wife Victoria, Beckham, 38, progressively became a fashion icon, a global brand, and the world's highest-paid soccer player with a fortune estimated by the Sunday Times Rich List at about 165 million pounds ($250 million).
"I am a footballer that has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world and played with some of the best players in the world, played under some of the biggest and best managers, and achieved almost everything in football," Beckham said Thursday after announcing he would retire at the end of the season.
His career, the first half of which was spent with the Manchester United team he grew up supporting, reads like a Who's Who of club soccer. Critics of his fame, wealth, and good looks often overlook an important fact:
Everywhere he went, Beckham won trophies.
The high point of his decade with United undoubtedly was winning the treble in 1999. At the Champions League final in Barcelona, Spain, Beckham replaced suspended captain Roy Keane in central midfield for a game that finished in dramatic style - with United scoring twice in injury time to beat Bayern Munich, 2-1.
Beckham's stamina, work rate, pinpoint passing, and deadly free-kick abilities helped United win six Premier League titles and two FA Cups by the time he became one of the few Englishmen to be sought by a major European club. By joining Real Madrid in 2003, Beckham became one of the "Galactico" stars on a team that included Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, and Roberto Carlos.
His four years in Spain brought a relatively meager return in terms of major trophies. However, Beckham managed to sign off with the Spanish league title before starting arguably his biggest adventure as a player - and as a lucrative vehicle for merchandising and sponsorship - in the United States.
Given his many friends in the world of show business on both sides of the Atlantic, it seemed almost inevitable that if Beckham was going to try to raise the profile of the game in the United States, it would be near Hollywood.
The Los Angeles Galaxy signed him to a five-year contract in 2007, and Beckham instantly became the face of U.S. soccer, setting up home in Beverly Hills and spending time with friends such as Tom Cruise and Snoop Dogg.
Though there was the inevitable criticism of his lifestyle and earnings, along with his offseason spells with AC Milan, Beckham was ultimately able to answer that by helping the Galaxy win two MLS Cup titles.
"I don't think he would ever need to prove he was worth bringing here," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said in November 2011. "He's done great things for this franchise and great things for this league."
Beckham's final stop, a brief sojourn in the French capital with newly rich Paris Saint-Germain, has yielded his final league title and now a final curtain to a unique soccer career.
However, Beckham's appeal is not universal. Not everyone likes his success and his changing hairstyles, and he has had to face some major setbacks, both on and off the pitch.
Like every England player since 1966, Beckham failed to win a trophy with his country. And although he will be remembered for making a record 115 appearances as an outfield player, and for a stunning free kick against Greece in 2001 that put his country into the next year's World Cup, he also has been a figure of hate.